Skip to main content

Full text of "On revolution"

See other formats


On Revolution 



On Revolution 



Published by the Penguin Group 

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England 

Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA 

Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia 

Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 

Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 1 1 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 1 10 017, India 

Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand 

Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank 2196, South Africa 

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England 

First published in the United States of America by 

The Viking Press 1963 

First published in Great Britain by Faber & Faber 1964 

Viking Compass Edition, containing minor but 

important changes and additions made by the author 

both in the text and in the documentation, published 1965 

Published in Pelican Books in Great Britain 1973 

Published in Pelican Books in the United States of America 1977 

Reprinted in Penguin Books in 1990 


Copyright © Hannah Arendt, 1963, 1965 
All rights reserved 

Printed in England by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic 
Set in Linotype Granjon 

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject 

to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, 

re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's 

prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in 

which it is published and without a similar condition including this 

condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser 


In reverence - in friendship - in love 



War and Revolution n 

i. The Meaning of Revolution 21 

2. The Social Question 59 

3. The Pursuit of Happiness 115 

4. Foundation I : Constitutio Libertatis 141 

5. Foundation II : Novus Ordo Saeclorum 179 

6. The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost 

Treasure 215 

notes 283 

bibliography 331 

INDEX 341 


The topic of this book was suggested to me by a 
seminar on 'The United States and the Revolutionary 
Spirit', held at Princeton University in the spring of 
1959 under the auspices of the Special Program in 
American Civilization. For the completion of the work 
I am indebted to a grant from the Rockefeller Founda- 
tion in i960 and to my stay as Fellow of the Center for 
Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University in the fall of 

Hannah Arendt 
NewYor\, September 1962 


War and Revolution 

Wars and revolutions - as though events had only hurried up 
to fulfil Lenin's early prediction - have thus far determined 
the physiognomy of the twentieth century. And as distinguished 
from the nineteenth-century ideologies - such as nationalism 
and internationalism, capitalism and imperialism, socialism and 
communism, which, though still jynvoked by many as justifying 
causes, have lost contact with the major realities of our world - 
war and revolution still constitute its two central political issues. 
They have outlived all their ideological justifications. In a con- 
stellation that poses the threat of total annihilation through war 
against the hope for the emancipation of all mankind through 
revolution - leading one people after the other in swift succession 
'to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and 
equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God 
entide them' - no cause is left but the most ancient of all, the 
one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history has deter- 
mined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus 

This in itself is surprising enough. Under the concerted assault 
of the modern debunking 'sciences', psychology and sociology, 
nothing indeed has seemed to be more safely buried than the 
concept of freedom. Even the revolutionists, whom one might 
have assumed to be safely and even inexorably anchored in a 
tradition that could hardly be told, let alone made sense of, with- 
out the notion of freedom, would much rather degrade freedom 
to the rank of a lower-middle-class prejudice than admit that 
the aim of revolution was, and always has been, freedom. Yet if 
it was amazing to see how the very word freedom could dis- 
appear from the revolutionary vocabulary, it has perhaps been 

12 On Revolution 

no less astounding to watch how in recent years the idea of 
freedom has intruded itself into the centre of the gravest of all 
present political debates, the discussion of war and of a justifiable 
use of violence. Historically, wars are among the oldest pheno- 
mena of the recorded past while revolutions, properly speaking, 
did not exist prior to the modern age; they are among the 
most recent of all major political data. In contrast to revolution, 
the aim of war was only in rare cases bound up with the notion 
of freedom; and while it is true that warlike uprisings against a 
foreign invader have frequently been felt to be sacred, they have 
never been recognized, either in theory or in practice, as the 
only just wars. 

Justifications of wars, even on a theoretical level, are quite 
old, although, of course, not as old as organized warfare. Among 
their obvious prerequisites is the conviction that political 
relations in their normal course do not fall under the sway of 
violence, and this conviction we find for the first time in Greek 
antiquity, in so far as the Greek polis, the city-state, defined itself 
explicitly as a way of life that was based exclusively upon per- 
suasion and not upon violence. (That these were no empty 
words, spoken in self-deception, is shown, among other things, 
by the Athenian custom of 'persuading' those who had been 
condemned to death to commit suicide by drinking the hemlock 
cup, thus sparing the Athenian citizen under all circumstances 
the indignity of physical violation.) However, since for the 
Greeks political life by definition did not extend beyond the 
walls of the polis, the use of violence seemed to them beyond the 
need for justification in the realm of what we today call foreign 
affairs or international relations, even though their foreign affairs, 
with the one exception of the Persian wars, which saw all Hellas 
united, concerned hardly more than relations between Greek 
cities. Outside the walls of the polis, that is, outside the realm of 
politics in the Greek sense of the word, 'the strong did what they 
could, and the weak suffered what they must' (Thucydides). 

Hence we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first 
justification of war, together with the first notion that there are 
just and unjust wars. Yet the Roman distinctions and justifica- 
tions were not concerned with freedom and drew no line between 

War and Revolution 13 

aggressive and defensive warfare. 'The war that is necessary is 
just,' said Livy, 'and hallowed are the arms where no hope 
exists but in them.' ('Iustum enim est bellum quibus neces- 
sarium, et pia arma ubi nulla nisi in armis spes est.') Necessity, 
since the time of Livy and through the centuries, has meant 
many things that we today would find quite sufficient to dub a 
war unjust rather than just. Conquest, expansion, defence o£ 
vested interests, conservation of power in view of the rise of new 
and threatening powers, or support of a given power equilibrium 
- all these well-kown realities of power politics were not only 
actually the causes of the outbreak of most wars in history, they 
were also recognized as 'necessities', that is, as legitimate motives 
to invoke a decision by arms. The notion that aggression is a 
crime and that wars can be justified only if they ward off aggres- 
sion or prevent it acquired its practical and even theoretical 
significance only after the First World War had demonstrated 
the horribly destructive potential of warfare under conditions of 
modern technology. 

Perhaps it is because of this noticeable absence of the freedom 
argument from the traditional justifications of war as the last 
resort of international politics that we have this curiously jarring 
sentiment whenever we hear it introduced into the debate of the 
war question today. To sound off with a cheerful 'give me liberty 
or give me death' sort of argument in the face of the unprece- 
dented and inconceivable potential of destruction in nuclear 
warfare is not even hollow; it is downright ridiculous. Indeed it 
seems so obvious that it is a very different thing to risk one's 
own life for the life and freedom of one's country and one's 
posterity from risking the very existence of the human species 
for the same purpose that it is difficult not to suspect the 
defenders of the 'better dead than red' or 'better death than 
slavery' slogans of bad faith. Which of course is not to say the 
reverse, 'better red than dead', has any more to recommend itself; 
when an old truth ceases to be applicable, it does not become any 
truer by being stood on its head. As a matter of fact, to the extent 
that the discussion of the war question today is conducted in 
these terms, it is easy to detect a mental reservation on both sides. 
Those who say 'better dead than red' actually think : The losses 

14 On Revolution 

may not be as great as some anticipate, our civilization will 
survive; while those who say 'better red than dead' actually 
think: Slavery will not be so bad, man will not change his 
nature, freedom will not vanish from the earth forever. In other 
words, the bad faith of the discussants lies in that both dodge the 
preposterous alternative they themselves have proposed; they are 
not serious. 1 

It is important to remember that the idea of freedom was 
introduced into the debate of the war question after it had 
become quite obvious that we had reached a stage of technical 
development where the means of destruction were such as to ex- 
clude their rational use. In other words, freedom has appeared in 
this debate like a deus ex machina to justify what on rational 
grounds has become unjustifiable. Is it too much to read into the 
current rather hopeless confusion of issues and arguments a 
hopeful indication that a profound change in international rela- 
tions may be about to occur, namely, the disappearance of war 
from the scene of politics even without a radical transformation 
of international relations and without an inner change of men's 
hearts and minds? Could it not be that our present perplexity in 
this matter indicates our lack of preparedness for a disappearance 
of war, our inability to think in terms of foreign policy without 
having in mind this 'continuation with other means' as its last 

Quite apart from the threat of total annihilation, which con- 
ceivably could be eliminated by new technical discoveries such 
as a 'clean' bomb or an anti-missile missile, there are a few signs 
pointing in this direction. There is -first the fact that the seeds of 
total war developed as early as the First World War, when the 
distinction between soldiers and civilians was no longer respected 
because it was inconsistent with the new weapons then used. To 
be sure, this distinction itself had been a relatively modern 
achievement, and its practical abolition meant no more than the 
reversion of warfare to the days when the Romans wiped 
Carthage off the face of the earth. Under modern circumstances, 
however, this appearance or reappearance of total war has a very 
important political significance in so far as it contradicts the 
basic assumptions upon which the relationship between the 

War and Revolution 15 

military and the civilian branches of government rests : it is the 
function of the army to protect and to defend the civilian 
population. In contrast, the history of warfare in our century 
could almost be told as the story of the growing incapacity of the 
army to fulfil this basic function, until today the strategy of 
deterrence has openly changed the role of the military from that 
of protector into that of a belated and essentially futile avenger. 

Closely connected with this perversion in the relationship 
between state and army is second the little-noticed but quite 
noteworthy fact that since the end of the First World War we 
almost automatically expect that no government, and no state or 
form of government, will be strong enough to survive a defeat 
in war. This development could be traced back into the nine- 
teenth century when the Franco-Prussian War was followed by 
the change from the Second Empire to the Third Republic of 
France; and the Russian Revolution of 1905, following upon 
defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, certainly was an ominous 
sign of what lay in store for governments in case of a military 
defeat. However that may be, a revolutionary change in govern- 
ment, either brought about by the people themselves, as after the 
First World War, or enforced from the outside by the victorious 
powers with the demand of unconditional surrender and the 
establishment of war trials, belongs today among the most cer- 
tain consequences of defeat in war - short, of course* of total 
annihilation. In our context it is immaterial whether this state of 
affairs is due to a decisive weakening of government as such, to 
a loss of authority in the powers that be, or whether no state and 
no government, no matter how well established and trusted by 
its citizens, could withstand the unparalleled terror of violence 
unleashed by modern warfare upon the whole population. The 
truth is that even prior to the horror of nuclear warfare, wars 
had become politically, though not yet biologically, a matter of 
life and death. And this means that under conditions of modern 
warfare, that is since the First World War, all governments 
have lived oh borrowed time. 

The third fact seems to indicate a radical change in the very 
nature of war through the introduction of the deterrent as the 
guiding principle in the armament race. For it is indeed true 

16 On Revolution 

that the strategy of deterrence 'aims in effect at avoiding rather 
than winning the war it pretends to be preparing. It tends to 
achieve its goal by a menace which is never put into execution, 
rather than by the act itself.' 2 To be sure, the insight that peace 
is the end of war, and that therefore a war is the preparation for 
peace, is at least as old as Aristotle, and the pretence that the aim 
of an armament race is to safeguard the peace is even older, 
namely as old as the discovery of propaganda lies. But the point 
of the matter is that today the avoidance of war is not only the 
true or pretended goal of an over-all policy but has become the 
guiding principle of the military preparations themselves. In 
other words, the military are no longer preparing for a war 
which the statesmen hope will never break out; their own goal 
has become to develop weapons that will make war impossible. 

Moreover, it is quite in line with these, as it were, paradoxical 
efforts that a possible serious substitution of 'cold' wars for 'hot* 
wars becomes clearly perceptible at the horizon of international 
politics. I do not wish to deny that the present and, let us hope, 
temporary resumption of atomic tests by the big powers aims 
primarily at new technical developments and discoveries; but it 
seems to me undeniable that these tests, unlike those that pre- 
ceded them, are also instruments of policy, and as such they 
have the ominous aspect of a new kind of manoeuvre in peace- 
time, involving in their exercise not the make-believe pair of 
enemies of ordinary troop manoeuvres but the pair who, poten- 
tially at least, are the real enemies. It is as though the nuclear 
armament race has turned into some sort of tentative warfare in 
which the opponents demonstrate to each other the destructive- 
ness of the weapons in their possession; and while it is always 
possible that this deady game of ifs and whens may suddenly 
turn into the real thing, it is by no means inconceivable that one 
day victory and defeat may end a war that never exploded into 

Is this sheer fantasy? I think not. Potentially, at least, we 
were confronted with this kind of hypothetical warfare the very 
moment the atom bomb made its first appearance. Many people 
then thought, and still think, it would have been quite sufficient 
to demonstrate the new weapon to a select group of Japanese 

War and Revolution 17 

scientists to force their government into unconditional surrender, 
for such a demonstration to those who knew would have con- 
stituted compelling evidence of an absolute superiority which no 
changing luck or any other factor could hope to alter. Seventeen 
years after Hiroshima, our technical mastery of the means of 
destruction is fast approaching the point where all non-technical 
factors in warfare, such as troop morale, strategy, general com- 
petence, and even sheer chance, are completely eliminated so 
that results can be calculated with perfect precision in advance. 
Once this point is reached, the results of mere tests and demon- 
strations could be as conclusive evidence to the experts for victory 
or defeat as the battlefield, the conquest of territory, the break- 
down of communications, et cetera have formerly been to the 
military experts on either side. 

There is finally, and in our context most importantly, the fact 
that the interrelationship of war and revolution, their recipro- 
cation and mutual dependence, has steadily grown, and that the 
emphasis in the relationship has shifted more and more from 
war to revolution. To be sure, the interrelatedness of wars and 
revolutions as such is not a novel phenomenon; it is as old as the 
revolutions themselves, which either were preceded and accom- 
panied by a war of liberation like the American Revolution, or 
led into wars of defence and aggression like the French Revolu- 
tion. But in our own century there has arisen, in addition to such 
instances, an altogether different type of event in which it is as 
though even the fury of war was merely the prelude, a prepara- 
tory stage to the violence unleashed by revolution (such clearly 
was Pasternak's understanding of war and revolution in Russia 
in Doctor Zhwago), or where, on the contrary, a world war 
appears like the consequences of revolution, a kind of civil war 
raging all over the earth as even the Second World War was 
considered by a sizeable portion of public opinion and with con- 
siderable justification. Twenty years later, it has become almost a 
matter of course that the end of war is revolution, and that the 
only cause which possibly could justify it is the revolutionary 
cause of freedom. Hence, whatever the outcome of our present 
predicaments may be, if we don't perish altogether, it seems 
more than likely that revolution, in distinction to war, will stay 

1 8 On Revolution 

with us into the foreseeable future. Even if we should succeed in 
changing the physiognomy of this century to the point where it 
would no longer be a century of wars, it most certainly will 
remain a century of revolutions. In the contest that divides the 
world today and in which so much is at stake, those will prob- 
ably win who understand revolution, while those who still put 
their faith in power politics in the traditional sense of the term 
and, therefore, in war as the last resort of all foreign policy may 
well discover in a not too distant future that they have become 
masters in a rather useless and obsolete trade. And such under- 
standing of revolution can be neither countered nor replaced 
with an expertness in counter-revolution; for counter-revolution 
- the word having been coined by Condorcet in the course of the 
French Revolution - has always remained bound to revolution 
as reaction is bound to action. De Maistre's famous statement: 
'La contrerevolution ne sera point une revolution contraire, mais 
le contraire de la revolution' (The counter-revolution will not 
be a revolution in reverse but the opposite of revolution') has 
remained what it was when he pronounced it in 1796, an empty 
witticism. 3 

Yet, however needful it may be to distinguish in theory and 
practice between war and revolution despite their close interre- 
latedness, we must not fail to note that the mere fact that revolu- 
tions and wars are not even conceivable outside the domain of 
violence is enough to set them both apart from all other political 
phenomena. It would be difficult to deny that one of the reasons 
why wars have turned so easily into revolutions and why revolu- 
tions have shown this ominous inclination to unleash wars is 
that violence is a kind of common denominator for both. The 
magnitude of the violence let loose in the First World War 
might indeed have been enough to cause revolutions in its after- 
math even without any revolutionary tradition and even if no 
revolution had ever occurred before. 

To be sure, not even wars, let alone revolutions, are ever com- 
pletely determined by violence. Where violence rules absolutely, 
as for instance in the concentration camps of totalitarian regimes* 
not only the laws - les lots se taisent, as the French Revolution 
phrased it - but everything and everybody must fall silent. It is 

War and Revolution 19 

because of this silence that violence is a marginal phenomenon 
in the political realm; for man, to the extent that he is a 
political being, is endowed with the power of speech. The two 
famous definitions of man by Aristotle, that he is a political 
being and a being endowed with speech, supplement each other 
and both refer to the same experience in Greek polis life. The 
point here is that violence itself is incapable of speech, and not 
merely that speech is helpless when confronted with violence. 
Because of this speechlessness political theory has little to say 
about the phenomenon of violence and must leave its discussion 
to the technicians. For political thought can only follow the 
articulations of the political phenomena themselves, it remains 
bound to what appears in the domain of human affairs; and 
these appearances, in contradistinction to physical matters, need 
speech and articulation, that is, something which transcends 
mere physical visibility as well as sheer audibility, in order to be 
manifest at all. A theory of war or a theory of revolution, there- 
fore, can only deal with the justification of violence because this 
justification constitutes its political limitation; if, instead, it 
arrives at a glorification or justification of violence as such, it is 
no longer political but antipolitical. 

In so far as violence plays a predominant role in wars and 
revolutions, both occur outside the political realm, strictly speak- 
ing, in spite of their enormous role in recorded history. This fact 
led the seventeenth century, which had its share of experience in 
wars and revolutions, to the assumption of a prepolitical state, 
called 'state of nature' which,. of course, never was meant to be 
taken as a historical fact. Its relevance even today lies in the 
recognition that a political realm does not automatically come 
into being wherever men live together, and that there exist events 
which, though they may occur in a strictly historical context, are 
not really political and perhaps not even connected with politics. 
The notion of a state of nature alludes at least to a reality that 
cannot be comprehended by the nineteenth-century idea of 
development, no matter how we may conceive of it - whether in 
the form of cause and effect, or of potentiality and actuality, or 
of a dialectical movement, or even of simple coherence and 
sequence in occurrences. For the hypothesis of a state of nature 

20 On Revolution 

implies the existence of a beginning that is separated from every- 
thing following it as though by an unbridgeable chasm. 

The relevance of the problem of beginning to the phenomenon 
of revolution is obvious. That such a beginning must be inti- 
mately connected with violence seems to be vouched for by the 
legendary beginnings of our history as both biblical and classical 
antiquity report it : Cain slew Abel, and Romulus slew Remus; 
violence was the beginning and, by the same token, no begin* 
ning could be made without using violence, without violating. 
The first recorded deeds in our biblical and our secular tradition, 
whether known to be legendary or believed in as historical fact, 
have travelled through the centuries with the force which human 
thought achieves in the rare instances when it produces cogent 
metaphors or universally applicable tales. The tale spoke clearly : 
whatever brotherh o od human being s may be capable of h as 
grown out of fratri cide, whatever political or ganization men may 
Have achieved has its origin in crime . The conviction, in the 
beginning was a crime - for which the phrase 'state of nature* 
is only a theoretically purified paraphrase - has carried through 
the centuries no less self-evident plausibility for the state of 
human affairs than the first sentence of St John, 'In the begin- 
ning was the Word', has possessed for the affairs of salvation. 


The Meaning of Revolution 

We are not concerned here with the war question. The meta- 
phor I mentioned, and the theory of a state of nature which 
spelled and spun out this metaphor theoretically - though they 
have often served to justify war and its violence on the grounds 
of an origina l evil inherent in human affairs and manifest in the 
criminal beginning of human history - are of even greater rele- 
vance to the problem of revolution, because revolutions are the 
only political events which confront us directly and inevitably 
with the problem of beginning. For revolutions, however we 
may be tempted to define them, are not mere changes. Modern 
revolutions have little in common with the mutatio rerum of 
Roman history or the oidai?, the civil strife which disturbed the 
Greek polls. We cannot equate them with Plato's uswxpoXai 
the quasi-natural transformation of one form of government into 
another, or with Polybius's no\iTe(©v&wKiL)KX©ai£>the appointed 
recurring cycle into which human affairs are bound by reason of 
their always being driven to extremes. 1 Antiquity was well 
acquainted with politcal change and the violence that went with 
change, but neither of them appeared to it to bring about some- 
thing altogether new. Changes did not interrupt the course of 
what the modern age has called history, which, far from starting 
with a new beginning, was seen as falling back into a different 
stage of its cycle, prescribing a course which was preordained by 
the very nature of human affairs and which therefore itself was 

There is, however, another aspect to modern revolutions for 
which it may be more promising to find precedents prior to the 
modern age. Who could deny the enormous role the social 
question has come to play in all revolutions, and who could fail 

•* point*. 1 0ft s^yklOifZ 

22 On Revolution 

to recall that Aristotle, when he began to interpret and explain 
Plato's ueTapoXai, had already discovered the importance of 
what we call today economic motivation - the overthrow of 
government by the rich and the establishment of an oligarchy, 
or the overthrow of government by the poor and the establish- 
ment of a democracy? Equally well known to antiquity was that 
tyrants rise to power through the support of the plain or the 
poor people, and that their greatest chance to keep power lies in 
the people's desire for equality of condition. The connection be- 
tween wealth and government in any given country and the 
insight that forms of government are interconnected with the 
distribution of wealth, the suspicion that political power may 
simply follow economic power, and, finally, the conclusion that 
interest may be the moving force in all political strife - all this is 
of course not the invention of Marx, nor for that matter of Har- 
rington : 'Dominion is property, real or personal'; or of Rohan : 
The kings command the people and interest commands kings/ 
If one wishes to blame any single author for the so-called 
materialistic view of history, one must go as far back as Aristotle, 
who was the first to claim that interest, which he called the 
cuucpepov, that which is useful for a person or for a group or 
for a people, does and should rule supreme in political matters. 

However, these overthrows and upheavals, prompted by in- 
terest, though they could not but be violent and full of blood- 
shed until a new order was established, depended on a distinc- 
tion between poor and rich which itself was deemed to be as 
natural and unavoidable in the body politic as life is in the 
human body. The social question began to play a revolutionary 
role only when, in the modern age and not before, men began 
to doubt that poverty is inherent in the human condition, to 
doubt that the distinction between the few, who through cir- 
cumstances or strength or fraud had succeeded in liberating 
themselves from the shackles of poverty, and the labouring 
poverty-stricken multitude was inevitable and eternal. This 
doubt, or rather the conviction that life on earth might be 
blessed with abundance instead of being cursed by scarcity, was 
prerevolutionary and American in origin; it grew directly out of 
the American colonial experience. Symbolically speaking, one 

The Meaning of Revolution 23 

may say that the stage was set for revolutions in the modern 
sense of a complete change of society, when John Adams, more 
than a decade before the actual outbreak of the American 
Revolution, could state: 'I always consider the settlement of 
America as the opening of a grand scheme and design in Provi- 
dence for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation 
of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.' 2 Theoretically 
speaking, the stage was set when first Locke - probably under the 
influence of the prosperous conditions of the colonies in the New 
World - and then Adam Smith held that labour and toil, far 
from being the appanage of poverty, the activity to which poverty 
condemned those who were without property, were, on the 
contrary, the source of all wealth. Under these conditions, the 
rebellion of the poor, of 'the slavish part of mankind', could 
indeed aim at more than liberation of themselves and enslave- 
ment of the other part of mankind. 

America had become the symbol of a society without poverty 
long before the modern age in its unique technological de- 
velopment had' actually discovered the means to abolish that 
abject misery of sheer want which had always been held to 
be eternal. And only after this had happened and had become 
known to European mankind could the social question and the 
rebellion of the poor come to play a truly revolutionary role. 
The ancient cycle of sempiternal recurrences had been based 
upon an assumedly 'natural' distinction of rich and poor; 8 the 
factual existence of American society prior to the outbreak of 
the Revolution had broken this cycle once and for all. There 
exists a great body of learned discussion about the influence of 
the American on the French Revolution (as well as about the 
decisive influence of European thinkers on the course of the 
American Revolution itself). Yet, justified and illuminating as 
these inquiries are bound to be, no demonstrable influence on 
the course of the French Revolution - such as the fact that it 
started with the Constituent Assembly or that the Declaration 
des Droits de I'Homme was modelled on the example of Vir- 
ginia's bill of rights - can equal the impact of what the Abbe 
Raynal had already called the 'surprising prosperity' of the lands 
which still were the English colonies in North America.* 

24 On Revolution 

We shall still have ample opportunity to discuss the influence, 
or rather the non-influence, of the American Revolution upon 
the course of modern revolutions. That neither the spirit of 
this revolution nor the thoughtful and erudite political theories 
of the Founding Fathers had much noticeable impact upon the 
European continent is a fact beyond dispute. What the men of 
the American Revolution counted among the greatest innova- 
tions of the new republican government, the application and 
elaboration of Montesquieu's theory of a division of powers 
within the body politic, played a very minor role in the thought 
of European revolutionists at all times; it was rejected at once, 
even before the French Revolution broke out, by Turgot, for 
considerations of national sovereignty, 5 whose 'majesty' - and 
majestas was Jean Bodin's original word, which he then trans- 
lated into souverainetS - allegedly demanded undivided centra- 
lized power. National sovereignty, that is, the majesty of the 
public realm itself as it had come to be understood in the long 
centuries of absolute kingship, seemed in contradiction to the 
establishment of a republic. In other words, it is as though the 
nation-state, so much older than any revolutions, had defeated 
the revolution in Europe even before it had made its appear- 
ance,. What on the other hand posed the most urgent and the 
politically least solvable problem to all other revolutions, the 
social question in the form of the terrifying predicament of mass 
poverty, played hardly any role in the course of the American 
Revolution. Not the American Revolution, but the existence of 
conditions in America that had been established and were well 
known in Europe long before the Declaration of Independence, 
nourished the revolutionary Slan in Europe. 

The new continent had become a refuge, an 'asylum* and a 
meeting ground of the poor; there had arisen a new race of men, 
'united by the silken bands of mild government' and living un- 
der conditions of *a pleasing uniformity' from which 'absolute 
poverty worse than death 1 had been banished. Yet Crevecceur, 
from whom this is quoted, was radically opposed to the Ameri- 
can Revolution, which he saw as a kind of conspiracy of 'great 
personages' against 'the common ranks of men'. 6 Not the 
American Revolution and its preoccupation with the establish- 

The Meaning of Revolution 25 

ment of a new body politic, a new form of government, but 
America, the 'new continent', the American, a 'new man', 'the 
lovely equality', in Jefferson's words, 'which the poor enjoy with 
the rich', revolutionized the spirit of men, first in Europe and 
then all over the world - and this to such an extent that from 
the later stages of the French Revolution up to the revolutions 
of our own time it appeared to revolutionary men more impor- 
tant to change the fabric of society, as it had been changed in 
America prior to its Revolution, than to change the structure of 
the political realm. If it were true that nothing else was at stake 
in the revolutions of the modern age than the radical change of 
social conditions, then indeed one might say that the discovery 
of America and the colonization of a new continent constituted 
their origins - as though the 'lovely equality', which had grown 
up naturally and, as it were, organically in the New World, 
could be achieved only through the violence and bloodshed of 
revolution in the Old World, once word of the new hope for 
mankind had spread to it. This view, in many and often quite 
sophisticated versions, has indeed become rather common 
among modern historians, who have drawn the logical con- 
clusion that no revolution has ever taken place in America. It 
is certainly noteworthy that this is somewhat supported by Karl 
Marx, who seems to have believed that his prophecies for the 
future of capitalism and the coming proletarian revolutions did 
not apply to the social developments in the United States. What- 
ever the merits of Marx's qualifications - and they certainly 
show more understanding of factual reality than his followers 
have ever been capable of - these theories themselves are re- 
futed by the simple fact of the American Revolution. For facts 
are stubborn; they do not disappear when historians or sociolo- 
gists refuse to learn from them, though they may when every- 
body has forgotten them. In our case, such oblivion would not 
be academic; it would quite literally spell the end of the Ameri- 
can Republic. 

A few words need still to be said about the not infrequent 
claim that all modern revolutions are essentially Christian in 
origin, and this even when their professed faith is atheism. The 
argument supporting this claim usually points to the clearly 

26 On Revolution 

rebellious nature of the early Christian sect with its stress on 
the equality of souls before God, its open contempt for all pub- 
lic powers, and its promise of a Kingdom of Heaven - notions 
and hopes which are supposed to have been channelled into 
modern revolutions, albeit in secularized fashion, through the 
Reformation. Secularization, the separation of religion from 
politics and the rise of a secular realm with a dignity of its 
own, is certainly a crucial factor in the phenomenon of revolu- 
tion. Indeed, it may ultimately turn out that what we call revo- 
lution is precisely that transitory phase which brings about the 
birth of a new, secular realm. But if this is true, then it is 
secularization itself, and not the contents of Christian teach- 
ings, which constitutes the origin of revolution. The first stage 
of this secularization was the rise of absolutism, and not the 
Reformation; for the 'revolution' which, according to Luther, 
shakes the world when the word of God is liberated from the 
traditional authority of the Church is constant and applies to 
all forms of secular government; it does not establish a new 
secular order but constantly and permanently shakes the foun- 
dations of all worldly establishment. 7 Luther, it is true, because 
he eventually became the founder of a new church, could be 
counted among the great founders in history, but his foundation 
was not, and never was intended to be, a novus or do saeclorum; 
on the contrary, it was meant to liberate a truly Christian life 
more radically from the considerations and worries of the secu- 
lar order, whatever it might happen to be. This is not to deny 
that Luther's dissolution of the bond between authority and 
tradition, his attempt at basing authority on the divine word 
itself, instead of deriving it from tradition, has contributed to 
the loss of authority in the modern age. But this by itself, with- 
out the foundation of a new church, would have remained as 
ineffectual as the eschatological expectations and speculations of 
the late Middle Ages from Joachim di Fiore to the Reformatio 
Sigismundi. The latter, it has been suggested recendy, may be 
considered to be the rather innocent forerunners of modern 
ideologies, though I doubt it; 8 by the same token, one may see 
in the eschatological movements of the Middles Ages the fore- 
runners of modern mass hysterias Yet even a rebellion, let 

The Meaning of Revolution 27 

alone a revolution, is considerably more than a mass hysteria. 
Hence, the rebellious spirit, which seems so manifest in certain 
strictly religious movements in the modern age, always ended 
in some Great Awakening or revivalism which, no matter how 
much it might 'revive' those who were seized by it, remained 
politically without consequences and historically futile. More- 
over, the theory that Christian teachings are revolutionary in 
themselves stands no less refuted by fact than the theory of 
the non-existence of an American revolution. For the fact is that 
no revolution was ever made in the name of Christianity prior 
to the modern age, so that the best one can say in favour of 
this theory is that it needed modernity to liberate the revolution- 
ary germs of the Christian faith, which obviously is begging 
the question. 

There exists, however, another, claim which comes closer to 
the heart of the matter. We have stressed the element of novelty 
inherent in all revolutions, and it is maintained frequently that 
our whole notion of history, because its course follows a recti- 
linear development, is Christian in origin. It is obvious that 
only under the conditions of a rectilinear time concept are such 
phenomena as novelty, uniqueness of events, and the like con- 
ceivable at all. Christian philosophy, it is true, broke with the 
time concept of antiquity because the birth of Christ, occurring 
in human secular time, constituted a new beginning as well as 
a unique, unrepeatable event. Let the Christian concept of his- 
tory, as it was formulated by Augustine, could conceive of a 
new beginning only in terms of a transmundane event breaking 
into and interrupting the normal course of secular history. Such 
an event, as Augustine emphasized, had occurred once but 
would never occur again until the end of time. Secular history 
in the Christian view remained bound within the cycles of an- 
tiquity - empires would rise and fall as in the past - except that 
Christians, in the possession of an everlasting life, could break 
through this cycle of everlasting change and must look with 
indifference upon the spectacles it offered. 

That change presides over all things mortal was of course not 
a specifically Christian notion but a prevalent mood through- 
out the last centuries of antiquity. As such, it had a greater 

28 On Revolution 

affinity with classical Greek philosophical and even prephilo- 
sophical interpretations of human affairs than with the classical 
spirit of the Roman res publica. In contradistinction to the 
Romans, the Greeks were convinced that the changeability, oc- 
curring in the realm of mortals in so far as they were mortals, 
could not be altered because it was ultimately based on the fact 
that v£oi, the young, who at the same time were 'new ones', 
were constantly invading the stability of the status quo. Poly- 
bius, who was perhaps die first writer to become aware of the 
decisive factor of generations following one another through 
history, looked upon Roman affairs with Greek eyes when he 
pointed to this unalterable, constant coming and going in the 
realm of the political, although he knew it was the business of 
Roman, as distinguished from Greek, education to bind the 
*new ones' to the old, to make the young worthy of their 
ancestors. 9 The Roman feeling of continuity was unknown in'j 
Greece, where the inherent changeability of all things mortal 
was experienced without any mitigation or consolation; and it 
was this experience which persuaded Greek philosophers that 
they need not take the realm of human affairs too seriously, 
that men should avoid bestowing upon this realm an altogether j 
undeserved dignity. Human affairs changed constantly but 
never produced anything entirely new; if there existed anything 
new under the sun, then it was rather men themselves in so 
far as they were born into the world. But no matter how new 
the v£oi, the new and young, might turn out to be, they were all 
born throughout the centuries to a natural or historical 
spectacle that essentially was always the same. 

The modern concept of revolution, inextricably bound up 
with the notion that the course of history suddenly begins anew, 
that an entirely new story, a story never known or told before, 
is about to unfold, was unknown prior to the two great revolu- 
tions at the end of the eighteenth century. Before they were 
engaged in what then turned out to be a revolution, none of the 

The Meaning of Revolution 29 

actors had the slightest premonition of what the plot of the 
new drama was going to be. However, once the revolutions had 
begun to run their course, and long before those who were in- 
volved in them could know whether their enterprise would end 
in victory or disaster, the novelty of the story and the inner- 
most meaning of its plot became manifest to actors and spec- 
tators alike. As to the plot, it was unmistakably the emergence 
of freedom : in 1793, four years after the outbreak of the French 
Revolution, at a time when Robespierre could define his rule as 
the 'despotism of liberty' without fear of being accused of speak- 
ing in paradoxes, Condorcet summed up what everybody knew : 
'The word "revolutionary" can be applied only to revolutions 
whose aim is freedom.' 10 That revolutions were about to usher 
in an entirely new era had been attested even earlier with the 
establishment of the revolutionary .calendar in which the year of 
the execution of the king and the proclamation of the republic 
was counted as the year one. 

Crucial, then, to any understanding of revolutions in the 
modern age is that the idea of freedom and the experience of a 
new beginning should coincide. And since the current notion 
of the Free World is that freedom, and neither justice nor great- 
ness, is the highest criterion for judging the constitutions of 
political bodies, it is not only our understanding of revolution 
but our conception of freedom, clearly revolutionary in origin, 
on which may hinge the extent to which we are prepared to 
accept or reject this coincidence. Even at this point, where we 
still talk historically, it may therefore be wise to pause and re- 
flect on one of the aspects under which freedom then appeared 
- if only to avoid the more common misunderstandings and to 
catch a first glance at the very modernity of revolution as such. 

It may be a truism to say that liberation and freedom are not 
the same; that liberation may be the condition of freedom but 
by no means leads automatically to it; that the notion of liberty 
implied in liberation can only be negative, and hence, that even 
the intention of liberating is not identical with the desire for 
freedom. Yet if these truisms are frequently forgotten, it is be- 
cause liberation has always loomed large and the foundation of 
freedom has always been uncertain, if not altogether futile. 

30 On Revolution 

Freedom, moreover, has played a large and rather controversial 
role in the history of both philosophic and religious thought, 
and this throughout those centuries - from the decline of the 
ancient to the birth of the modern world - when political free- 
dom was non-existent, and when, for reasons which do not in- 
terest us here, men were not concerned with it. Thus it has be- 
come almost axiomatic even in political theory to understand by 
political freedom not a political phenomenon, but on the con- 
trary, the more or less free range of non-political activities which 
a given body politic will permit and guarantee to those who 
constitute it. 

Freedom as a political phenomenon was coeval with the rise 
of the Greek city-states. Since Herodotus, it was understoodLas 
a form of political organization in which the citizens lived 
together under conditions of no-rule, without a division between 
rulers and ruled. 11 This notion of no-rule was expressed by the 
word isonomy, whose outstanding characteristic among the 
forms of government, as the ancients had enumerated them, was 
that the notion of rule (the 'archy' from fipxeiv in monarchy 
and oligarchy, or the 'cracy' from Kpaieiv in democracy) was 
entirely absent from it. The polis was supposed to be an ison- 
omy, not a democracy. The word 'democracy', expressing even 
then majority rule, the rule of the many, was originally coined 
by those who were opposed to isonomy and who meant to say : 
What you say is 'no-rule' is in fact only another kind of ruler- 
ship; it is the worst form of government, rule by the demos. 12 

Hence, equality, which we, following Tocqueville's insights, 
frequently see as a danger to freedom, was originally almost 
identical with it. But this equality within the range of the law, 
which the word isonomy suggested, was not equality of con- 
dition - though this equality, to an extent, was the condition 
for all political activity in the ancient world, where the political 
realm itself was open only to those who owned property and 
slaves - but the equality of those who form a body of peers. 
Isonomy guaranteed taoTriq, equality, but not because all men 
were born or created equal, but, on the contrary, because men 
were by nature ((puasi) not equal, and needed an artificial 
institution, the polis, which by virtue of its v6uoc, would make 

The Meaning of Revolution 31 

them equal. Equality existed only in this specifically political 
realm, where men met one another as citizens and not as private 
persons. The difference between this ancient concept of equality 
and our notion that men are born or created equal and become 
unequal by virtue of social and political, that is man-made, 
institutions can hardly be over-emphasized. The equality of the 
Greek polis, its isonomy, was an attribute of the polis and not 
of men, who received their equality by virtue of citizenship, 
not by virtue of birth. Neither equality nor freedom was under- 
stood as a quality inherent in human nature, they were both not 
qrikiet, given by nature and growing out by themselves; they 
were vducp, that is, conventional and artificial, the products of 
human effort and qualities of the man-made world. 

The Greeks held that no one can be free except among his 
peers, that therefore neither the tyrant nor the despot nor the 
master of a household - even though he was fully liberated and 
was not forced by others - was free. The point of Herodotus's 
equation of freedom with no-rule was that the ruler himself 
was not free; by assuming the rule over others, he had deprived 
himself of those peers in whose company he could have been 
free. In other words, he had destroyed the political space itself, 
with the result that there was no freedom extant any longer, 
either for himself or for those over whom he ruled. The reason 
for this insistence on the interconnection of freedom and 
equality in Greek political thought was that freedom was under- 
stood as being manifest in certain, by no means all, human 
activities, and that these activities could appear and be real 
only when others saw them, judged them, remembered them. 
The life of a free man needed the presence of others. Freedom; 
itself needed therefore a place where people could come together 
- the agora, the market-place, or the polis, the political space! 

If we think of this political freedom in modern terms, trying 
to understand what Condorcet and the men of the revolutions 
had in mind when they claimed that revolution aimed at free- 
dom and that the birth of freedom spelled the beginning of an 
entirely new story, we must first notice the rather obvious fact 
that they could not possibly have had in mind merely those liber- 

32 On Revolution 

ties which we today associate with constitutional government 
and which are properly called civil rights. For none of these 
rights, not even the right to participate in government because 
taxation demands representation, was in theory or practice the 
result of revolution. 13 They were the outcome of the 'three great 
and primary rights': life, liberty, property, with respect to 
which all other rights were 'subordinate rights [that is] the 
remedies or means which must often be employed in order to 
fully obtain and enjoy the real and substantial liberties' (Black- 
stone). 14 Not 'life, liberty, and property' as such, but their be- 
ing inalienable rights of man, was the result of revolution. But 
even in the new revolutionary extension of these rights to all 
men, liberty meant no more than freedom from unjustified 
restraint, and as such was fundamentally identical with free- 
dom of movement - 'the power of locomotion . . . without im- 
prisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law' - which 
Blackstone, in full agreement with ancient political thought, 
held to be the most important of all civil rights. Even the right 
of assembly, which has come to be the most important positive 
political freedom, appears still in the American Bill of Rights 
as 'the right of people peacefully to assemble, and to petition 
the government for a redress of grievances' (First Amendment) 
\ whereby 'historically the right to petition is the primary right* 
I and the historically correct interpretation must read : the right 
! to assemble in order to petition. 15 All these liberties, to which we 
\ might add our own claims to be free from want and fear, are of 
| course essentially negative; they are the results of liberation but 
they are by no means the actual content of freedom, which, as 
we shall see later, is participation in public affairs, or admission 
to the public realm. If revolution had aimed only at the guaran- 
tee of civil rights, then it would not have aimed at freedom but 
at liberation from governments which had over-stepped their 
powers and infringed upon old and well-established rights. 

The difficulty here is that revolution as we know it in the 
modern age has always been concerned with both liberation and 
freedom. And since liberation, whose fruits are absence of re- 
straint and possession of 'the power of locomotion', is indeed a 
condition of freedom - nobody would ever be able to arrive at a 

The Meaning of Revolution 33 

place where freedom rules if he could not move without restraint 
- it is frequently very difficult to say where the mere desire for 
liberation, to be free from oppression, ends, and the desire for 
freedom as the political way of life begins. The point of the 
matter is that while the former, the desire to be free from op- 
pression, could have been fulfilled under monarchical - though 
not under tyrannical, let alone despotic - rulership, the latter 
necessitated the formation of a new, or rather rediscovered form 
of government; it demanded the constitution of a republic. 
Nothing, indeed, is truer, more clearly borne out by facts which, 
alas, have been almost totally neglected by the historians of 
revolutions, than 'that the contests of that day were contests of 
principle, between the advocates of republican, and those of 
kingly government'. 16 

But this difficulty in drawing the line between liberation and 
freedom in any set of historical circumstances does not mean 
that liberation and freedom are the same, or that those liberties 
which are won as the result of liberation tell the whole story of 
freedom, even though those who tried their hand at both libera- 
tion and the foundation of freedom more often than not did not 
distinguish between these matters very clearly either. The men of 
the eighteenth-century revolutions had a perfect right to this 
lack of clarity; it was in the very nature of their enterprise that 
they discovered their own capacity and desire for the 'charms of 
liberty', as John Jay once called them, only in the very act of 
liberation. For the acts and deeds which liberation demanded 
from them threw them into public business, where, inten- 
tionally or more often unexpectedly, they began to constitute 
that space of appearances where freedom can unfold its charms 
and become a visible, tangible reality. Since they were not in the 
least prepared for these charms, they could hardly be expected to 
be fully aware of the new phenomenon. It was nothing less 
than the weight of the entire Christian tradition which pre- 
vented them from owning up to the rather obvious fact that they 
were enjoying what they were doing far beyond the call of duty. 

Whatever the merits of the opening claim of the American 
Revolution - no taxation without representation - it certainly 
could not appeal by virtue of its charms. It was altogther dif- 

34 On Revolution 

ferent with the speech-making and decision-taking, the oratory 
and the business, the thinking and the persuading, and the 
actual doing which proved necessary to drive this claim to its 
logical conclusion : independent government and the foundation 
of a new body politic. It was through these experiences that 
those who, in the words of John Adams, had been 'called with- 
out expectation and compelled without previous inclination* dis- 
covered that 'it is action, not rest, that constitutes our pleasure'. 17 

What the revolutions brought to the fore was this experience 
of being free, and this was a new experience, not, to be sure, 
in the history of Western mankind - it was common enough in 
both Greek and Roman antiquity - but with regard to the cen- 
turies which separate the downfall of the Roman Empire from 
the rise of the modern age. And this relatively new experience, 
new to those at any rate who made it, was at the same time the 
experience of man's faculty to begin something new. These two 
things together - a new experience which revealed man's cap- 
acity for novelty - are at the root of the enormous pathos which 
we find in both the American and the French Revolutions, this 
ever-repeated insistence that nothing comparable in grandeur 
and significance had ever happened in the whole recorded his- 
tory of mankind, and which, if we had to account for it in 
terms of successful reclamation of civil rights, would sound 
entirely out of place. 

Only where this pathos of novelty is present and where 
novelty is connected with the idea of freedom are we entitled to 
speak of revolution. This means of course that revolutions are 
more than successful insurrections and that we are not justified 
in calling every coup d'etat a revolution or even in detecting 
one in each civil war. Oppressed people have often risen in 
rebellion, and much of ancient legislation can be understood 
only as safeguards against the ever-feared, though rarely occur- 
ring, uprising of the slave population. Civil war and factional 
strife, moreover, seemed to the ancients the greatest dangers to 
every body politic, and Aristotle's <piX.ia, that curious friendship 
he demanded for the relationships between the citizens, was 
conceived as the most reliable safeguard against them. Coups 
d'etat 2x16. palace revolutions, where power changes hands from 

The Meaning of Revolution 35 

one man to another, from one clique to another, depending 
on the form of government in which the coup d'tiat occurs, have 
been less feared because the change they bring is circumscribed 
to the sphere of government and carries a minimum of unquiet 
to the people at large, but they have been equally well known 
and described. 

All these phenomena have in common with revolution that 
they are brought about by violence, and this is the reason why 
they are so frequently identified with it. But violence is no more 
adequate to describe the phenomenon of revolution than change; 
only where change occurs in the sense of a new beginning, 
where violence is used to constitute an altogether different form 
of government, to bring about the formation of a new body 
politic, where the liberation from oppression aims at least at the 
constitution of freedom can we spcajc of revolution. And the fact 
is that although history has always known those who, like 
Alcibiades, wanted power for themselves or those who, like 
Catiline, were rerum not/arum cupidi, eager for new things, the 
revolutionary spirit of the last centuries, that is the eagerness to 
liberate and to build a new house where freedom can dwell, is 
unprecedented and unequalled in all prior history. 

One way to date the actual birth of such general historical 
phenomena as revolutions - or for that matter nation-states or 
imperialism or totalitarian rule and the like - is, of course, to 
find out when the word which from then on remains attached 
to the phenomenon appears for the first time. Obviously, each 
new appearance among men stands in need of a new word, 
whether a new word is coined to cover the new experience or 
an old word is used and given an entirely new meaning. This is 
doubly true for the political sphere of life, where speech rules 

It is therefore of more than mere antiquarian interest to note 
that the word 'revolution* is still absent where we are most 
inclined to think we could find it, namely, in the historiography 

36 On Revolution 

and political theory of the early Renaissance in Italy. It is especi- 
ally striking that Machiavelli still uses Cicero's mutatio rerum, 
his mutaziom del stato, in his descriptions of forcible overthrow 
of rulers and the substitution of one form of government for 
another, in which he is so passionately and, as it were, prema- 
turely interested. For his thought on this oldest problem of 
political theory was no longer bound by the traditional answer 
according to which one-man rule leads to democracy, democracy 
leads to oligarchy, oligarchy leads to monarchy and vice versa - 
the famous six possibilities which Plato first envisaged, Aristotle 
first systematized, and even Bodin still described with hardly 
any fundamental change. Machiavelli's chief interest in the in- 
numerable mutazioni, variazioni> and alterazioni, of which his 
work is so full that interpreters could mistake his teachings for 
a 'theory of political change', was precisely the immutable, the 
invariable, and the unalterable, in short, the permanent and the 
enduring. What makes him so relevant for a history of revolu- 
tion, in which he was but a forerunner, is that he was the first to 
think about the possibility of founding a permanent, lasting, 
enduring body politic. The point here is not even that he is 
already so well acquainted with certain outstanding elements of 
modern revolutions - with conspiracy and factional strife, with 
the stirring up of the people to violence, with the turmoil and 
lawlessness that eventually will throw the whole body politic 
out of gear, and, last, not least, with the chances which revolu- 
tions open to newcomers, to Cicero's homines novi> to Machia- 
velli's condottieri, who rise from low conditions into the splen- 
dour of the public realm and from insignificance to a power to 
which they previously had been subjected. More important in 
our context is that Machiavelli was the first to visualize the rise 
of a purely secular realm whose laws and principles of action 
were independent of the teachings of the Church in particular, 
and of moral standards, transcending the sphere of human 
affairs, in general. It was for this reason that he insisted that 
people who entered politics should first learn 'how not to be 
good', that is, how not to act according to Christian precepts. 18 
What chiefly distinguished him from the men of the revolutions 
was that he understood his foundation - the establishment of 

The Meaning of Revolution 37 

a united Italy, of an Italian nation-state modelled after the 
French and the Spanish examples - as a rinovazione, and 
renovation was to him the only alterazione a salute^ the only 
beneficial alteration he could conceive of. In other words, the 
specific revolutionary pathos of the absolutely new, of a begin- 
ning which would justify starting to count time in the year of 
the revolutionary event, was entirely alien to him. Yet, even in 
this respect he was not so far removed from his successors in the 
eighteenth century as it may seem. We shall see later that the 
revolutions started as restorations or renovations, and that the 
revolutionary pathos of an entirely new beginning was born only 
in the course of the event itself. It was in more than one respect 
that Robespierre was right when he asserted that 'the plan of the 
French Revolution was written large in the books ... of Machia- 
velli'; 19 for he could easily have* added: We too 'love our 
country more than the safety of our soul'. 20 

Indeed, the greatest temptation to disregard the history of 
the word and to date the phenomenon of revolution from the 
turmoil in the Italian city-states during the Renaissance arises 
with Machiavelli's writings. He certainly was not the father of 
political science or political theory, but it is difficult to deny that 
one may well see in him the spiritual father of revolution. Not 
only do we find in him already this conscious, passionate effort 
to revive the spirit and the institutions of Roman antiquity 
which then became so characteristic of eighteenth-century politi- 
cal thought; even more important in this context is his famous 
insistence on the role of violence in the realm of politics which 
has never ceased to shock his readers, but which we also find 
in the words and deeds of the men of the French Revolution. In 
both instances, the praise of violence is strangely at odds with 
the professed admiration for all things Roman, since in the 
Roman republic it was authority, and not violence, which ruled 
the conduct of the citizens. However, while these similarities 
might explain the high regard for Machiavclli in the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries, they are not enough to outbalance the 
more striking differences. The revolutionary turning towards 
ancient political thought did not aim at, and did not succeed in, 
reviving antiquity as such; what in the case of Machiavelli was 

38 On Revolution 

only the political aspect of Renaissance culture as a whole, 
whose arts and letters outshone by far all political developments 
in the Italian city-states, was in the case of the men of the 
revolutions, on the contrary, rather out of tune with the spirit 
of their age which, since the beginning of the modern age and 
the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century, had 
claimed to outdistance all ancient achievements. And no mat- 
ter how much the men of the revolutions might admire the 
splendour that was Rome, none of them would have felt at 
home in antiquity as Machiavelli did; they would not have been 
able to write : 'On the coming of evening, I return to my house 
and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day's cloth- 
ing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and 
courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts 
of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed 
on that food which only is mine and which I was born for.' 21 If 
one reads these and similar sentences, one will willingly follow 
the discoveries of recent scholarship which sees in the Renais- 
sance only the culmination of a series of revivals of antiquity 
that began immediately after the truly dark ages with the Carol- 
ingian renaissance and ended in the sixteenth century. By the 
same token, one will agree that politically the unbelievable tur- 
moil of the city-states in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries 
was an end and not a beginning; it was the end of the medieval 
townships with their self-government and their freedom of 
political life. 22 

Machiavelli's insistence on violence, on the other hand, is 
more suggestive. It was the direct consequence of the twofold 
perplexity in which he found himself theoretically and which 
later became the very practical perplexity besetting the men of 
the revolutions. The perplexity consisted in the task of founda- 
tion, the setting of a new beginning, which as such seemed to 
demand violence and violation, the repetition, as it were, of the 
old legendary crime (Romulus slew Remus, Cain slew Abel) at 
the beginning of all history. This task of foundation, morever, 
was coupled with the task of lawgiving, of devising and impos- 
ing upon men a new authority, which, however, had to be 
designed in such a way that it would fit and step into the shoes 

The Meaning of Revolution 39 

of the old absolute that derived from a God-given authority, 
thus superseding an earthly order whose ultimate sanction had 
been the commands of an omnipotent God and whose final 
source of legitimacy had been the notion of an incarnation of 
God on earth. Hence Machiavelli, the sworn enemy of religious 
considerations in political affairs, was driven to ask for divine 
assistance and even inspiration in legislators - just like the 'en- 
lightened* men of the eighteenth century, John Adams and 
Robespierre for example. This 'recourse to God', to be sure, was 
necessary only in the case of 'extraordinary laws', namely of 
laws by which a new community is founded. We shall see later 
that this latter part of the task of revolution, to find a new 
absolute to replace the absolute of divine power, is insoluble 
because power under the condition of human plurality can never 
amount to omnipotence, and laws residing on human power 
can never be absolute. Thus Machiavelli's 'appeal to high Hea- 
ven', as Locke would have called it, was not inspired by any 
religious feelings but exclusively dictated by the wish 'to escape 
this difficulty 1 ; 23 by the same token, his insistence on the role of 
violence in politics was due not so much to his so-called realistic 
insight into human nature as to his futile hope that he could 
find some quality in certain men to match the qualities we asso- 
ciate with the divine. 

Yet these were only premonitions, and Machiavelli's thoughts 
by far outran all actual experience of his age. The fact is that 
no matter how we may be inclined to read our own experiences 
into those prompted by the civil strife raging in the Italian city- 
states, the latter were not radical enough to suggest the need 
for a new word or the reinterpretation of an older word to those 
who acted in them or were their witnesses. (The new word which 
Machiavelli introduced into political theory and which had 
come into usage even before him was the word 'state', lo stato* 
Despite his constant appeals to the glory that was Rome and his 
constant borrowings from Roman history, he apparently felt 
that a united Italy would constitute a political body so different 
from ancient or fifteenth-century city-states as to warrant a new 

The words which of course always occur are 'rebellion' and 

40 On Revolution 

'revolt*, whose meanings have been determined and even de- 
fined since the later Middle Ages. But these words never indi- 
cated liberation as the revolutions understood it, and even less 
did they point to the establishment of a new freedom. For libera- 
tion in the revolutionary sense came to mean that those who not 
only at present but throughout history, not only as individuals 
but as members of the vast majority of mankind, the low and 
the poor, all those who had always lived in darkness and sub- 
jection to whatever powers there were, should rise and become 
the supreme sovereigns of the land. If for clarity's sake we think 
o£ such an event in terms of ancient conditions, it is as though 
not the people of Rome or Athens, the populus or the demos, 
the lower orders of the citizenry, but the slaves and resident 
aliens, who formed the majority of the population without ever 
belonging to the people, had risen and demanded an equality of 
rights. This, as we know, never happened. The very idea of 
equality as we understand it, namely that every person is born as 
an equal by the very fact of being born andthat_equality is a 
idrthright* was .utterly unknown prior to the modern age. 

It is true, medieval and post-medieval theory knew of legiti- 
mate rebellion, of rise against established authority, of open 
defiance and disobedience. But the aim of such rebellions was 
not a challenge of authority or the established order of things 
as such; it was always a matter of exchanging the person who 
happened to be in authority, be it the exchange of a usurper for 
the legitimate king or the exchange of a tyrant who had abused 
his power for a lawful ruler. Thus, while the people might be 
admitted to have the right to decide who should not rule them, 
they certainly were not supposed to determine who should, and 
even less do we ever hear of a right of people to be their own 
rulers or to appoint persons from their own rank for the busi- 
ness of government. Where it actually happened that men of 
the people rose from low conditions to the splendour of the 
public realm, as in the case of the coniottieri in the Italian 
city-states, their admission to public business and power was 
due to qualities by which they distinguished themselves from 
the people, by a virtk which was all the more praised and 
admired as it could not be accounted for through social origin 

The Meaning of Revolution 41 

and birth. Among the rights, the old privileges and liberties of 
the people, the right to a share in government was conspicuously 
absent. And such a right of self-government is not even fully 
present in the famous right of representation for the purposes of 
taxation. In order to rule, one had to be a born ruler, a free-born 
man in antiquity, a member of the nobility in feudal Europe, 
and although there were enough words in premodern political 
language to describe the uprising of subjects against a ruler, 
there was none which would describe a change so radical that 
the subjects became rulers themselves. 

That the phenomenon of revolurion is unprecedented in pre- 
modern history is by no means a matter of course. To be sure^ 
many people would agree that eagerness for new things com- 
bined with the conviction that novelty as such is desirable are 
highly characteristic of the world we live in, and to equate this 
mood of modern society with a so-called revolutionary spirit is 
very common indeed. However, if we understand by revolution- 
ary spirit the spirit which actually grew out of revolution, then 
this modern yearning for novelty at any price must be carefully 
distinguished from it. Psychologically speaking, the experience 
of foundation combined with the conviction that a new story is 
about to unfold in history will make men •conservative* rather 
than 'revolutionary', eager to preserve what has been done and 
to assure its stability rather than open for new things, new 
developments, new ideas. Historically speaking, moreover, the 
men of the first revolutions - that is, those who not only made a 
revolution but introduced revolutions on to the scene of politics - 
were not at all eager for new things, for a novus ordo saeclorum> 
and it is this disinclination for novelty which still echoes in the 
very word 'revolution', a relatively old term which only slowly 
acquired its new meaning. In fact, the very usage of this word 
indicates most clearly the lack of expectation and inclination on 
the side of the actors, who were no more prepared for anything 
unprecedented than were the contemporary spectators. The 

42 On Revolution 

point of the matter is that the enormous pathos of a new era 
which wc find in almost identical terms and in endless variations 
uttered by the actors of the American as of the French Revolu- 
tion came to the fore only after they had come, much against 
their will, to a point of no return. 

The word 'revolution' was originally an astronomical term 
which gained increasing importance in the natural sciences 
through Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium* In 
this scientific usage it retained its precise Latin meaning, desig- 
nating the regular, lawfully revolving motion of the stars, which, 
since it was known to be beyond the influence of man and hence 
irresistible, was certainly characterized neither by newness nor 
by violence. On the contrary, the word clearly indicates a recur- 
ring, cyclical movement; it is the perfect Latin translation of 
Polybius's duaKUK^coo-t?, a term which also originated in 
astronomy and was used metaphorically in the realm of 
politics. If used for the affairs of men on earth, it could only 
signify that the few known forms of government revolve among 
the mortals in eternal recurrence and with the same irresistible 
force which makes the stars follow their preordained paths in 
the skies. Nothing could be farther removed from the original 
meaning of the word 'revolution' than the idea of which all 
revolutionary actors have been possessed and obsessed, namely, 
that they are agents in a process which spells the definite end of 
an old order and brings about the birth of a new world. 

If the case of modern revolutions were as clear-cut as a text- 
book definition, the choice of the word 'revolution* would be 
even more puzzling than it actually is. When the word first 
descended from the skies and was introduced to describe what 
happened on earth among mortal men, it appeared clearly as a 
metaphor, carrying over the notion of an eternal, irresistible, 
ever-recurring motion to the haphazard movements, the ups and 
downs of human destiny, which have been likened to the rising 
and setting of sun, moon, and stars since times immemorial. In 
the seventeenth century, where we find the word for the first 
time as a political term, the mctaphoric content was even closer 
to the original meaning of the word, for it was used for a move- 
ment of revolving back to some pre-established point and, by 

The Meaning of Revolution 43 

implication, of swinging back into a preordained order. Thus, 
the word was first used not when what we call a revolution 
broke out in England and Cromwell rose to the first revolution- 
ary dictatorship, but on the contrary, in 1660, after the overthrow 
of the Rump Parliament and at the occasion of the restoration 
of the monarchy. In precisely the same sense, the word was used 
in 1688, when the Stuarts were expelled and the kingly power 
was transferred to William and Mary. 26 The 'Glorious Revolu- 
tion', the event through which very paradoxically the term found 
its definite place in political and historical language, was not 
thought of as a revolution at all, but as a restoration of 
monarchical power to its former righteousness and glory. 

The fact that the word 'revolution' meant originally restora- 
tion, hence something which to us is its very opposite, is not a 
mere oddity of semantics. The revolutions of the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries, which to us appear to show all evidence 
of a new spirit, the spirit of the modern age, were intended to be 
restorations. It is true, the civil wars in England foreshadowed a 
great many tendencies which we have come to associate with 
what was essentially new in the revolutions of the eighteenth 
century : the appearance of the Levellers and the formation of a 
party composed exclusively of lowly people, whose radicalism 
came into conflict with the leaders of the revolution, point clearly 
to the course of the French Revolution; while the demand for a 
written constitution as 'the foundation for just government', 
raised by the Levellers and somehow fulfilled when Cromwell 
introduced an 'Instrument of Government' to set up the Pro- 
tectorate, anticipates one of the most important achievements, 
if not the most important one, of the American Revolution. Yet 
the fact is that the short-lived victory of this first modern revolu- 
tion was officially understood as a restoration, namely as 'free- 
dom by God's blessing restored', as the inscription runs on the- 
great seal of 1 65 1. 

In our context it is even more important to note what hap- 
pened more than a century later. For we are not here concerned 
with the history of revolutions as such, with their past, their 
origins, and course of development. If we want to learn what a 
revolution is - its. general implications for man as a political 

44 On Revolution 

being, its political significance for the world we live in, its role in 
modern history - we must turn to those historical moments when 
revolution made its full appearance, assumed a kind of definite 
shape, and began to cast its spell over the minds of men, quite 
independent of the abuses and cruelties and deprivations of 
liberty which might have caused them to rebel. We must turn, 
in other words, to the French and the American Revolutions, 
and we must take into account that both were played in their 
initial stages by men who were firmly convinced that they would 
do no more than restore an old order of things that had been 
disturbed and violated by the despotism of absolute monarchy or 
the abuses of colonial government. They pleaded in all sincerity 
that they wanted to revolve back to old times when things had 
been as they ought to be. 

This has given rise to a great deal of confusion, especially 
with respect to the American Revolution, which did not devour 
its own children and where therefore the men who had started 
the 'restoration' were the same men who began and finished the 
Revolution and even lived to rise to power and office in the new 
order of things. What they had thought was a restoration, the 
retrieving of their ancient liberties, turned into a revolution, and 
their thoughts and theories about the British constitution, the 
rights of Englishmen, and the forms of colonial government 
ended with a declaration of independence. But the movement 
which led to revolution was not revolutionary except by inad- 
vertence, and 'Benjamin Franklin, who had more firsthand in- 
formation about the colonies than any other man, could later 
write in all sincerity, "I never had heard in any Conversation 
from any Person drunk or sober, the least Expression of a wish 
for a Separation, or Hint that such a Thing would be advan- 
tageous to America." ,2? Whether these men were 'conservative* 
or 'revolutionary' is indeed impossible to decide if one uses these 
words outside their historic context as generic terms, forgetting 
that conservatism as a political creed and an ideology owes its 
existence to a reaction to the French Revolution and is meaning- 
ful only for the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 
And the same point, though perhaps somewhat less unequivo- 
cally/ can be made for the French Revolution; here too, in 

The Meaning of Revolution 45 

Tocqueyille's words, 'one might have believed the aim of the 
coming revolution was not the overthrow of the old regime but 
its restoration'. 28 Even when in the course of both revolutions 
the actors became aware of the impossibility of restoration and 
of the need to embark upon an entirely new enterprise, and 
when therefore the very word 'revolution' had already acquired 
its new meaning, Thomas Paine could still, true to the spirit of 
a bygone age, propose in all earnestness to call the American 
and the French Revolutions by the name of 'counter-revolu- 
tions'. 29 This proposition, odd indeed from the mouth of one of 
the most 'revolutionary' men of the time, shows in a nutshell 
how dear the idea of revolving back, of restoration, was to the 
hearts and minds of the revolutionaries. Paine wanted no more 
than to recapture the old meaning of the word 'revolution* and 
to express his firm conviction that the events of the time had 
caused men to revolve back to an 'early period' when they had 
been in the possession of rights and liberties of which tyranny 
and conquest had dispossessed them. And his 'early period' is 
by no means the hypothetical prehistorical state of nature, as the 
seventeenth century understood it, but a definite, though un- 
defined, period in history. 

Paine, we should remember, used the term 'counter-revolution' 
in reply to Burke's forceful defence of the rights of an English- 
man, guaranteed by age-old custom and history, against the new- 
fangled idea of the rights of man. But the point is that Paine, no 
less than Burke, felt absolute novelty would be an argument 
against, not for, the authenticity and legitimacy of such rights. 
Needless to add that, historically speaking, Burke was right and 
Paine was wrong. There is no period in history to which the 
Declaration of the Rights of Man could have harkened back. 
Former centuries might have recognized that men were equal 
with respect to God or the gods, for this recognition is not 
Christian but Roman in origin; Roman slaves could be full- 
fledged members of religious corporations and, within the limits 
of sacred law, their legal status was the same as that of the free 
man. 80 But inalienable political rights of all men by virtue of 
birth would have appeared to all ages prior to our own as they 
appeared to Burke - a contradiction in terms. And it is interest- 

46 On Revolution 

ing to note that the Latin word homo, the equivalent of 'man', 
signified originally somebody who was nothing but a man, a 
rightless person, therefore, and a slave. 

For our present purpose and especially for our ultimate effort 
to understand the most elusive and yet the most impressive facet 
of modern revolutions, namely, the revolutionary spirit, it is of 
importance to remember that the whole notion of novelty and 
newness as such existed prior to the revolutions, and yet was 
essentially absent from their beginnings. In this, as in other 
respects, one is tempted to argue that the men of the revolutions 
were old-fashioned in terms of their own time, certainly old- 
fashioned when compared with the men of science and philo- 
sophy of the seventeenth century, who, with Galileo, would 
stress 'the absolute novelty' of their discoveries, or, with Hobbes, 
claim that political philosophy was 'no older than my own book 
De Cive\ or, with Descartes, insist that no philosopher before 
had succeeded in philosophy. To be sure, reflections on the 'new 
continent', which had given rise to a 'new man', such as I quoted 
from Crevecceur and John Adams and which we could have 
found in any number of other, less distinguished writers, were 
common enough. But in contradistinction to the claims of the 
scientists and philosophers, the new man no less than the new 
land was felt to be a gift of Providence, not a product of men. In 
other words, the strange pathos of novelty, so characteristic of 
the modern age, needed almost two hundred years to leave the 
relative seclusion of scientific and philosophic thought and to 
reach the realm of politics. (In the words of Robespierre : 'Tout 
a change dans l'ordre physique; et tout doit changer dans l'ordre 
moral ^et politique.') But when it reached this realm, in which 
events concern the many and not the few, it not only assumed 
a more radical expression, but became endowed with a reality 
peculiar to the political realm alone. It was only in the course of 
the eighteenth-century revolutions that men began to be aware 
that a new beginning could be a political phenomenon, that it 
could be the result of what men had done and what they could 
consciously set out to do. From then on, a 'new continent' and 
a 'new man' rising from it were no longer needed to instil hope 
for a new order of things. The novus ordp saeclorum was no 

The Meaning of Revolution 47 

longer a blessing given by the 'grand scheme and design in 
Providence', and novelty was no longer the proud and, at the 
same time, frightening possession of the few. When newness 
had reached the market-place, it became the beginning of a new 
story, started - though unwittingly - by acting men, to be en- 
acted further, to be augmented and spun out by their posterity. 

While the elements of novelty, beginning, and violence, all 
intimately associated with our notion of revolution, are con- 
spicuously absent from the original meaning of the word as well 
as from its first metaphoric use in political language, there exists 
another connotation of the astronomic term which I have already 
mentioned briefly and which has remained very forceful in our 
own use of the word. I mean the notion of irresistibility, the fact 
that the revolving motion of the stars follows a preordained path 
and is removed from all influence of human power. We know, 
or believe we know, the exact date when the word 'revolution' 
was used for the first time with an exclusive emphasis on 
irresistibility and without any connotation of a backward revolv- 
ing movement; and so important does this emphasis appear to 
our own understanding of revolutions that it has become com- 
mon practice to date the new political significance of the old 
astronomic term from the moment of this new usage. 

The date was the night of the fourteenth of July 1789, in Paris, 
when Louis XVI heard from the Due de La Rochefoucauld- 
Liancourt of the fall of the Bastille, the liberation of a few 
prisoners, and the defection of the royal troops before a popular 
attack. The famous dialogue that took place between the king 
and his messenger is very short and very revealing. The king, 
we are told, exclaimed, 'C'est une revolte', and Liancourt cor- 
rected him : 'Non, Sire, c'est une revolution.' Here we hear the 
word still, and politically for the last time, in the sense of the 
old metaphor which carries its meaning from the skies down 
to the earth; but here, for the first time perhaps, the emphasis 
has entirely shifted from the lawfulness of a rotating, cyclical 

48 On Revolution 

movement to its irresistibility. 31 The motion is still seen in the 
image of the movements of the stars, but what is stressed now is 
that it is beyond human power to arrest it, and hence it is a law 
unto itself. The king, when he declared the storming of the 
Bastille was a revolt, asserted his power and the various means at 
his disposal to deal with conspiracy and defiance of authority; 
Liancourt replied that what had happened there was irrevocable 
and beyond the power of a king. What did Liancourt see, what 
must we see or hear, listening to this strange dialogue, that he 
thought, and we know, was irresistible and irrevocable? 

The answer, to begin with, seems simple. Behind these words, 
we still can see and hear the multitude on their march, how they 
burst into the streets of Paris, which then still was the capital 
not merely of France but of the entire civilized world - the up- 
heaval of the populace of the great cities inextricably mixed with 
the uprising of the people for freedom, both together irresistible 
in the sheer force of their number. And this multitude, appearing 
for the first time in broad daylight, was actually the multitude of 
the poor and the downtrodden, who every century before had 
hidden in darkness and shame. What from then on has been 
irrevocable, and what the agents and spectators of revolution 
immediately recognized as such, was that the public realm - 
reserved, as far as memory could reach, to those who were free, 
namely carefree of all the worries that are connected with life's 
necessity, with bodily needs - should offer its space and its light 
to this immense majority who are not free because they are 
driven by daily needs. 

The notion of an irresistible movement, which the nineteenth 
century soon was to conceptualize into the idea of historical 
necessity, echoes from beginning to end through the pages of the 
French Revolution. Suddenly an entirely new imagery begins to 
cluster around the old metaphor and an entirely new vocabulary 
is introduced into political language. When we think of revolu- 
tion, we almost automatically still think in terms of this imagery, 
born in these years - in terms of Desmoulins' torrent revolution- 
naire un whose rushing waves the actors of the revolution were 
borne and carried away until its undertow sucked them from the 
surface and they perished together with their foes, the agents of 

The Meaning of Revolution 49 

the counter-revolution. For the mighty current of the revolution, 
in the words of Robespierre, was constantly accelerated by the 
'crimes of tyranny', on one side, by the 'progress of liberty', on 
the other, which inevitably provoked each other, so that move- 
ment and counter-movement neither balanced nor checked or 
arrested each other, but in a mysterious way seemed to add up 
to one stream of 'progressing violence', flowing in the same 
direction with an ever-increasing rapidity. 32 This is 'the majestic 
lava stream of the revolution which spares nothing and which 
nobody can arrest', as Georg Forster witnessed it in 1793 ; 33 it is 
the spectacle that has fallen under the sign of Saturn: 'The 
revolution devouring its own children', as Vergniaud, the great 
orator of the Gironde, put it. This is the 'revolutionary tempest' 
which sent the revolution on its march, Robespierre's tempete 
revolutionnaire and his marche de la Revolution, that mighty 
stormwind which swept away or submerged the unforgettable 
and never entirely forgotten beginning, the assertion of 'the 
grandeur of man against the pettiness of the great', as Robes- 
pierre put it, 34 or 'the vindication of the honour of the human 
race', in the words of Hamilton. 35 It seemed as though a force 
greater than man had interfered when men began to assert their 
grandeur and to vindicate their honour. 

In the decades following the French Revolution, this associa- 
tion of a mighty undercurrent sweeping men with it, first to the 
surface of glorious deeds and then down to peril and infamy, 
was to become dominant. The various metaphors in which the 
revolution is seen not as the work of men but as an irresistible 
process, the metaphors of stream and torrent and current, were 
still coined by the actors themselves, who, however drunk they 
might have become with the wine of freedom in the abstract, 
clearly no longer believed that they were free agents. And - 
given but a moment of sober reflection - how could they have 
believed they were or had ever been the authors of their own 
deeds? What but the raging storm of revolutionary events had 
changed them and their innermost convictions in a matter of a 
few years? Had they not all been royalists in 1789 who, in 1793, 
were driven not merely to the execution of a particular king 
(who might or might not have been a traitor), but to the denun- 

50 On Revolution 

ciation of kingship itself as *an eternal crime* (Saint-Just)? Had 
they not all been ardent advocates of the rights of private 
property who in the laws of Ventose in 1794 proclaimed the con- 
fiscation of the property not merely of the Church and of the 
emigre's but of all 'suspects', that it might be handed over to the 
'unfortunates'? Had they not been instrumental in the formula- 
tion of a constitution whose main principle was radical decen- 
tralization, only to be driven to discard it as utterly worthless, 
and to establish instead a revolutionary government through 
committees which was more centralized than anything the 
ancien regime had ever known or dared to practise. Were they 
not engaged in, and even winning, a war which they had never 
wanted and never believed they would be able to win? What 
could there possibly remain in the end but the knowledge they 
somehow had possessed even in the beginning, namely (in the 
words of Robespierre writing to his brother in 1789) that 'the 
present Revolution has produced in a few days greater events 
than the whole previous history of mankind'? And in the" end, 
one is tempted to think, this should have been enoughs 

Ever since the French Revolution, it has been common to in- 
terpret every violent upheaval, be it revolutionary or counter- 
revolutionary, in terms of a continuation of the movement 
originally started in 1789, as though the times of quiet and 
restoration were only the pauses in which the current had gone 
underground to gather force to break up to the surface again - 
in 1830 and 1832, in 1848 and 1851, in 1871, to mention only the 
more important nineteenth-century dates. Each time adherents 
and opponents of these revolutions understood the events as 
immediate consequences of 1789. And if it is true, as Marx said, 
that the French Revolution had been played in Roman clothes, 
it is equally true that each of the following revolutions, up to 
and including the October Revolution, was enacted according 
to the rules and events that led from the fourteenth of July to 
the ninth of Thermidor and the eighteenth of Brumaire - dates 
which so impressed themselves on the memory of the French 
people that even today they are immediately identified by every- 
body with the fall of the Bastille, the death of Robespierre, and 
the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was not in our time but in the 

The Meaning of Revolution 51 

middle of the nineteenth century that the term 'permanent 
revolution', or even more tellingly revolution en permanence^ 
was coined (by Proudhon) and, with it, the notion that 'there 
never has been such a thing as several revolutions, that there is 
only one revolution, selfsame and perpetual'. 36 

If the new metaphorical content of the word 'revolution' 
sprang directly from the experiences of those who first made and 
then enacted the Revolution in France, it obviously carried an 
even greater plausibility for those who watched its course, as if it 
were a spectacle, from the outside. What appeared to be most 
manifest in this spectacle was that none of its actors could con- 
trol the course of events, that this course took a direction which 
had little if anything to do with the wilful aims and purposes of 
the anonymous force of the revolution if they wanted to survive 
at all. This sounds commonplace, to us today, and we probably 
find it hard to understand that anything but banalities could 
have been derived from it. Yet we need only remember the 
course of the American Revolution, where the exact opposite 
took place, and recall how strongly the sentiment that man is 
master of his destiny, at least with respect to political govern- 
ment, permeated all its actors, to realize the impact which the 
spectacle of the impotence of man with regard to the course of 
his own action must have made. The well-known shock of dis- 
illusion suffered by the generation in Europe which lived 
through the fatal events from 1789 to the restoration of the Bour- 
bons transformed itself almost immediately into a feeling of awe 
and wonder at the power of history itself. Where yesterday, that 
is in the happy days of Enlightenment, only the despotic power 
of the monarch had seemed to stand between man and his 
freedom to act, a much more powerful force had suddenly arisen 
which compelled men at will, and from which there was no 
release, neither rebellion nor escape, the force of history and 
historical necessity. 

Theoretically, the most far-reaching consequence of the French 
Revolution was the birth of the modern concept of history in 
Hegel's philosophy. Hegel's truly revolutionary idea was that 
the old absolute of the philosophers revealed itself in the realm 
of human affairs, that is, in precisely that domain of human 

52 On Revolution 

experiences which the philosophers unanimously had ruled out 
as the source or birthplace of absolute standards. The model for 
this new revelation by means of a historical process was clearly 
the French Revolution, and the reaso n w hy_Ge rman_p ost- 
Kantian-philosophy came to exert its enormous influence on 
European thought in the twentieth century, especially in coun- 
tries exposed to revolutionary unrest - Russia, Germany, France 
- was not its so-called idealism but, on jthe. contrary, the-facL.that 
ithad left the sphere of mere speculation and attempted Jo. for- 
mulate a philosophy which would correspond to and_com- 
prehcnd conceptually the newest and most real experiences of 
the time. However, this comprehension itself was theoretical in 
the old, original sense of the word 'theory'; Hegel's philosophy, 
though concerned with action and the realm of human affairs, 
consisted in contemplation. Before the backward-directed glance 
of thought, everything that had been political - acts, and words, 
an<f events - became historical, with the result that the new 
world which was ushered in by the eighteenth-century revolu- 
tions did not receive, as Tocqueville still claimed, a *new science 
of politics', 37 but a philosophy of history - quite apart from Jthe 
perhaps even more momentous transformation of philosophy 
into philosophy of history, which does not concern us here. 

Politically, the fallacy of this new and typically modem 
philosophy is relatively simple. It^yisjtts_jn_dejcjnL^^ 
understanding the : whole, realm, of hum not in terms 

of the actor and the agent, but from, the standpoint of the 
s.pectator„who watches a spectacle. But this fallacy is relatively 
difficult to detect because of the truth inherent in it, which is 
that all stories begun and enacted by men unfold their true mean- 
ing only when they have come to their end, so that it may indeed 
appear as though only the spectator, and not the agent, can hope 
to understand what actually happened in any given chain of 
deeds and events. It was to the spectator even more forcefully 
than to the actor that the lesson of the French Revolution 
appeared to spell out historical necessity or that Napoleon 
Bonaparte became a destiny*. 38 Yet the point of the matter is 
that all those who, throughout the nineteenth century and deep 
into the twentieth, followed in the footsteps of the French 

The Meaning of Revolution 53 

Revolution saw themselves not merely as successors of the men 
of the French Revolution but as agents of history and historical 
necessity, with the obvious and yet paradoxical result that in- 
stead of freedom necessity became the chief category of political 
and revolutionary thought. 

Still, without the French Revolution it may be doubted that 
philosophy would ever have attempted to concern itself with 
the realm of human affairs, that is, to discover absolute truth in 
a domain which is ruled by men's relations and relationships 
with one another and hence is relative by definition. Truth, even 
though it was conceived 'historically', that is, was understood 
to unfold in time and therefore did not necessarily need to be 
valid for all times, still had to be valid for all men, regardless 
of where they happened to dwell and of which country they 
happened to be citizens. Truth, in other words, was supposed to 
relate and to correspond not to citizens, in whose midst there 
could exist only a multitude of opinions, and not to nationals, 
whose sense for truth was limited by their own history and 
national experience. Truth had to relate to man qua man, who 
as a worldly, tangible reality, of course, existed nowhere. History, 
therefore, if it was to become a medium of the revelation of 
truth, had to be world history, and the truth which revealed 
itself had to be a 'world spirit'. Yet while the notion of history 
could attain philosophic dignity only under the assumption that 
it covered the whole world and the destinies of all men, the idea 
of world history itself is clearly political in origin; it was pre- 
ceded by the French and the American Revolution, both of 
which prided themselves on having ushered in a new era for all 
mankind, on being events which would concern all men qua 
men, no matter where they lived, what their circumstances were, 
or what nationality they possessed. The very notion of world 
history was born from the first attempt at world politics, and 
although both the American and the French enthusiasm for the 
'rights of man' quickly subsided with the birth of the nation- 
state, which, short-lived as this form of government has proved 
to be, was the only relatively lasting result of revolution in 
Europe, the fact is that in one form or another world politics has 
been an adjunct to politics ever since. 

54 On Revolution 

Another aspect of Hegel's teachings which no less obviously 
derives from the experiences of the French Revolution is even 
more important in our context, since it had an even more im- 
mediate influence on the revolutionists of the nineteenth and 
twentieth centuries - all of whom, even if they did not learn their 
lessons from Marx (still the greatest pupil Hegel ever had) and 
never bothered to read Hegel, looked upon revolution through 
Hegelian categories. This aspect concerns the character of histori- 
cal motion, which, according to Hegel as well as all his fol- 
lowers, is at once dialectical and driven by necessity : out of the 
revolution and counter-revolution, from the fourteenth of July to 
the eighteenth of Brumaire and the restoration of the monarchy, 
was born the dialectical movement and counter-movement of 
history which bears men on its irresistible flow, like a powerful 
undercurrent, to which they must surrender the very moment 
they attempt to establish freedom on earth. This is the meaning 
of the famous dialectics of freedom and necessity in which both 
eventually coincide - perhaps the most terrible and, humanly 
speaking, least bearable paradox in the whole body of modern 
thought. And yet, Hegel, who once had seen in the year 1789 the 
moment when the earth and the heavens had become reconciled, 
might still have thought in terms of the original metaphorical 
content of the word 'revolution', as though in the course of the 
French Revolution the lawfully irresistible movement of the 
heavenly bodies had descended upon the earth and the affairs of 
men, bestowing upon them a 'necessity' and regularity which 
had seemed beyond the 'melancholy haphazardness' (Kant), the 
sad 'mixture of violence and meaninglessness' (Goethe) which 
up to then had seemed to be the outstanding quality of history 
and of the course of the world. Hence, the paradox that freedom 
is the fruit of necessity, in Hegel's own understanding, was 
hardly more paradoxical than the reconciliation of heaven and 
earth. Moreover, there was nothing facetious in Hegel's theory 
and no empty witticism in his dialectics of freedom and neces- 
sity. On the contrary, they must even then have forcefully 
appealed to those who still stood under the impact of political 
reality; the unabated strength of their plausibility has resided 
ever since much less on theoretical evidence than on an experi- 

The Meaning of Revolution 55 

cnce repeated time and again in the centuries of wars and 
revolution. The modern concept of history, with its unparalleled 
emphasis on history as a process, has many origins and among 
them especially the earlier modern concept of nature as a process. 
As long as men took their cue from the natural sciences and 
thought of this process as a primarily cyclical, rotating, ever- 
recurring movement - and even Vico still thought of historical 
movement in these terms - it was unavoidable that necessity 
should be inherent in historical as it is in astronomical motion. 
Every cyclica l movement JgAJiggessary movement by definition. 
But the fact that necessity as an inherent characteristic of history 
should survive the modern break in the cycle of eternal recur- 
rences and make its reappearance in a movement that was essen- 
tially rectilinear and hence did not revolve back to what was 
known before but stretched out into an unknown future, this 
fact owes its existence not to theoretical speculation but to 
political experience and the course of real events. 

It was the French and not the American Revolution that set 
the world on fire, and it was consequently from the course of 
the French Revolution, and not from the course of events in 
America or from the acts of the Founding Fathers, that our 
present use of the word 'revolution' received its connotations 
and overtones everywhere, the United States not excluded. The 
colonization of North America and the republican government 
of the United States constitute perhaps the greatest, certainly the 
boldest, enterprises of European mankind; yet the United States 
has been hardly more than a hundred years in its history truly 
on its own, in splendid or not so splendid isolation from the 
mother continent. Since the end of the last century, it has been 
subject to the threefold onslaught of urbanization, industrializa- 
tion, and, perhaps most important of all, mass immigration. 
Since then, theories and concepts, though unfortunately not 
always their underlying experiences, have migrated once more 
from the old to the new world, and the word 'revolution', with 
its associations, is no exception to this rule. It is odd indeed ro 
see that twentieth-century American even more than European 
learned opinion is often inclined to interpret the American 
Revolution in the light of the French Revolution, or to criticize 

56 On Revolution 

it because it so obviously did not conform to lessons learned from 
the latter. The sad truth of the matter is that the French 
Revolution, which ended in disaster, has made world history, 
while the American Revolution, so triumphantly successful, has 
remained an event of litde more than local importance. 

For whenever in our own century revolutions appeared on the 
scene of politics, they were seen in images drawn from the course 
of the French Revolution, comprehended in concepts coined by 
spectators, and understood in terms of historical necessity. Con- 
spicuous by its absence in the minds of those who made the 
revolutions as well as of those who watched and tried to come 
to terms with them, was the deep concern with forms of govern- 
ment so characteristic of the American Revolution, but also very 
important in the initial stages of the French Revolution. It was 
the men of the French Revolution who, overawed by the 
spectacle of the multitude, exclaimed with Robespierre, 'La 
(Republique? La Monarchic? Je ne connais que la question 
sociale'; and they lost, together with the institutions and con- 
stitutions which are 'the soul of the Republic' (Saint-Just), the 
revolution itself. 19 Since then, men swept willy-nilly by revolu- 
tionary stormwinds into an uncertain future have taken the 
place of the proud architects who intended to build their new 
houses by drawing upon an accumulated wisdom of all past 
ages as they understood it; and with these architects went the 
reassuring confidence that a novus ordo saeclorum could be 
built on ideas, according to a conceptual blueprint whose very 
age vouchsafed its truth. Not thought, only the practice, only the 
application would be new. The time, in the words of Washing- 
ton, was 'auspicious* because it had 'laid open for us ... the 
treasures of knowledge acquired by labours of philosophers, 
sages and legislators through a long succession of years'; with 
their help, the men of the American Revolution felt, they could 
begin to act after circumstances and English policy had left them 
no other alternative than to found an entirely new body politic. 
And since they had been given die chance to act, history and 
circumstances could no longer be blamed : if the citizens of the 
United States 'should not be completely free and happy, the fault 
will be entirely their own'. 40 It would never have occurred to 

The Meaning of Revolution 57 

them that only a few decades later the keenest and most thought- 
ful observer of what they had done would conclude : *I go back 
from age to age up to the remotest antiquity, but I find no 
parallel to what is occurring before my eyes; as the past has 
ceased to throw its light upon the future, the mind of man 
wanders in obscurity. 41 

The magic spell which historical necessity has cast over the 
minds of men since the beginning of the nineteenth century 
gained in potency by the October Revolution, which for our cen- 
tury has had the same profound meaningfulness of first crys- 
tallizing the best of men's hopes and then realizing the full 
measure of their despair that the French Revolution had for 
its contemporaries. Only this time it was not unexpected ex- 
periences which hammered the lesson home, but a conscious 
modelling of a course of action upon the experiences of a by* 
gone age and event. To be sure, only the two-edged compul- 
sion of ideology and terror, one compelling men from within 
and the other compelling them from without, can fully explain 
the meekness with which revolutionists in all countries which 
fell under the influence of the Bolshevik Revolution have gone 
to their doom; but there the lesson presumably learned from 
the French Revolution has become an integral part of the self- 
imposed compulsion of ideological thinking today. The trouble 
has always been the same: those who went into the school of 
revolution learned and knew beforehand the course a revolution 
must take. It was the course of events, not the men of the 
Revolution, which they imitated. Had they taken the men of the 
Revolution as their models, they would have protested their 
innocence to their last breath. 42 But they could not do this 
because they knew that a revolution must devour its own 
children, just as they knew that a revolution would take its 
course in a sequence of revolutions, or that the open enemy was 
followed by the hidden enemy under the mask of the 'suspects', 
or that a revolution would split into two extreme factions - the 
indulgents and the enragis - that actually or 'objectively' worked 
together in order to undermine the revolutionary government, 
and that the revolution was 'saved 1 by the man in the middle, 
who, far from being more moderate, liquidated the right and 

58 On Revolution 

the left as Robespierre had liquidated Danton and Hebert. What 
the men of the Russian Revolution had learned from the 
French Revolution - and this learning constituted almost their 
entire preparation - was history and not action. They had 
acquired the skill to play whatever part the great drama of 
history was going to assign them, and if no other role was 
available but that of the villain, they were more than willing 
to accept their part rather than remain outside the play. 

There is some grandiose ludicrousness in the spectacle of these 
men - who had dared to defy all powers that be and to chal- 
lenge all authorities on earth, whose courage was beyond the 
shadow of a doubt - submitting, often from one day to the other, 
humbly and without so much as a cry of outrage, to the call of ' 
historical necessity, no matter how foolish and incongruous the 
outward appearance of this necessity must have appeared to 
them. They were fooled, not because the words of Danton and 
Vergniaud, of Robespierre and Saint-Just, and of all the others 
still rang in their ears; they were fooled by history, and they 
have become the fools of history. 


The Social Question 

Lcs malheureux sont la puissance de la terre. - Saint Just 

The professional revolutionaries of the early twentieth century 
may have been the fools of history, but they certainly were 
themselves no fools. As a category of revolutionary thought, the 
notion of historical necessity had more to recommend itself than 
the mere spectacle of the French Revolution, more even than 
the thoughtful remembrance of its course of events and the sub- 
sequent condensation of happenings into concepts. Behind the 
appearances was a reality, and this reality was biological and 
not historical, though it appeared now perhaps for the first time 
in the full light of history. The most powerful necessity of 
which we are aware in self-introspection is the life process 
which permeates our bodies and keeps them in a constant state 
of a change whose movements are automatic, independent of 
our own activities, and irresistible - i.e., of an overwhelming 
urgency. The less we are doing ourselves, the less active we are, 
the more forcefully will this biological process assert itself, im- 
pose its inherent necessity upon us, and overawe us with the 
fateful automatism of sheer happening that underlies all human 
history. The^ec«sity ; of historical processes^ originally. seen in \ XJ \ 

the image of the revojyjng^ lawful, and necessary motion of ^^V 
thejieayenly bodies, found its powerful counterpart in the 
recurring necessity to which all human life is subject. When 
this had happened, and it happened when the poor, driven by 
the needs of their bodies, burst on to the scene of the French 
Revolution, the astronomic metaphor so plausibly apposite to the 
sempiternal change, the ups and downs of human destiny, lost 
its old connotations and acquired the biological imagery which 

60 On Revolution 

underlies and pervades the organic and social theories of his- 
tory, which all have in common that they see a multitude - the 
factual plurality of a nation or a people or society - in the im- 
age of one supernatural body driven by one superhuman, irres- 
istible 'general will*. 

The reality which corresponds to this modern imagery is 
what, since the eighteenth century, we have come to call the 
social question and what we may better and more simply call 
the existence of poverty. Poverty is more than deprivation, it is a 
state of constant want and acute misery whose ignominy con- 
sists in its dehumanizing force; poverty, is abjec t because it puts 
men u nder the absolute dictate of their bodie s, that is, u nder 
^j^ necessity as all men know it jrqm their 
most intimate experience and outside all speculations. It was un- 
der the rule of this necessity that the multitude rushed to the 
assistance of the French Revolution, inspired it, drove it on- 
ward, and eventually sent it to its doom,«for this was the multi- 
tude of the poor. When they appeared on the scene of politics, 
necessity appeared with them, and the result was that the power 
of the old regime became impotent and the new republic was 
stillborn; freedom had to be surrendered to necessity, to the 
urgency of the life process itself. When Robespierre declared 
that 'everything which is necessary to maintain life must be 
common good and only the surplus can be recognized as private 
property', he was not only reversing premodern political theory, 
which held that it was precisely the citizens' surplus in time and 
goods that must be given and shared in common; he was, 
again in his own words, finally subjecting revolutionary 
government to 'the most sacred of all laws, the welfare of the 
people, the most irrefragable of all titles, necessity'. 1 In other 
words, he had abandoned his own 'despotism of liberty', his 
dictatorship for the sake of the foundation of freedom, to the 
'rights of the Sans-Culottes', which were 'dress, food and the 
reproduction of their species'. 2 It was necessity, the urgent needs 
of the people, that unleashed the terror and sent the Revolution 
to its doom. Robespierre, finally, knew well enough what had 
happened though he formulated it (in his last speech) in the 
form of prophecy: 'We shall perish because, in the history of 

The Social Question 61 

mankind, we missed the moment to found freedom/ Not the 
conspiracy of kings and tyrants but the much more powerful 
conspiracy of necessity and poverty distracted them long enough 
to miss the 'historical moment'. Meanwhile, the revolution had 
changed its direction; it aimed no longer at freedom, the goal 
of the revolution had become the happiness of the people. 3 

The transformation of the Rights of Man into the rights of 
Sans-Culottes was the turning point not only of the French 
Revolution but of all revolutions that were to follow. This is 
due in no small measure to the fact that Karl Marx, the 
greatest theorist the revolutions ever had, was so much more 
interested in history than in politics and therefore neglected, 
almost entirely, the original intentions of the men of the 
revolutions, the foundation of freedom, and concentrated his 
attention, almost exclusively, on the seemingly objective course 
of revolutionary events. In other words, it took more than half 
a century before the transformation of the Rights of Man into 
the rights of Sans-Culottes, the abdication of freedom before the 
dictate of necessity, had found its theorist. When this hap- 
pened in the work of Karl Marx, the history of modern revolu- 
tions seemed to have reached a point of no return : since noth- 
ing even remotely comparable in quality on the level of 
thought resulted from the course of the American Revolution, 
revolutions had definitely come under the sway of the French 
Revolution in general and under the predominance of the 
social question in particular. (This is even true for Tocqueville, 
whose main concern was to study in America the consequences 
of that long and inevitable revolution of which the events of 
1789 were only the first stage. In the American Revolution itself 
and the theories of the founders, he remained curiously un- 
interested.) The enormous impact of Marx's articulations and 
concepts upon the course of revolution is undeniable, and while 
it may be tempting, in view of the absurd scholasticism of 
twentieth-century Marxism, to ascribe this influence to the 
ideological elements in Marx's work, it may be more accurate 
to argue the other way round and to ascribe the pernicious in- 
fluence of Marxism to the many authentic and original dis- 
coveries made by Marx. Be that as it may, there is no doubt 

62 On Revolution 

that the young Marx became convinced that the reason why 
the French Revolution had failed to found freedom was that it 
had failed to solve the social question. From this he concluded 
that freedom and poverty were incompatible. His most explosive 
and indeed most original contribution to the cause of revolution 
was that he interpreted the compelling needs of mass poverty 
in political terms as an uprising, not for the sake of bread or 
wealth, but for the sake of freedom as well. What he learned 
from the French Revolution was that poverty can be a political 
force of the first order. The ideological elements in his teachings, 
his belief in 'scientific' socialism, in historical necessity, in super- 
structures, in 'materialism', et cetera, are secondary and deriva- 
tive in comparison; he shared them with the entire modern age 
and we find them today not only in the various brands of 
socialism and communism but in the whole body of the social 

Marx's transformation of the social question into a political 
force is contained in the term 'exploitation', that is, in the 
notion that poverty is the result of exploitation through a 
'ruling class' which is in the possession of the means of violence. 
The value of this hypothesis for the historical sciences is small 
indeed; it takes its cue from a slave economy where a 'class' o£ 
masters actually rules over a substratum of labourers, and it holds 
true only for the early stages of capitalism, when poverty on an 
unprecedented scale was the result of expropriation by force. It 
certainly could not have survived more than a century of histori- 
cal research if it had not been for its revolutionary rather than 
its scientific content. It was for the sake of revolution that 
Marx introduced an element of politics into the new science of 
economics and thus made it what it pretended to be - political 
economy, an economy which rested on political power and 
hence could be overthrown by political organization and revolu- 
tionary means. By reducing property relations to the old rela- 
tionship which violence, rather than necessity, establishes 
between men, he summoned up a spirit of rebelliousness 
that can spring only from being violated, not from being under 
the sway of necessity. If Marx helped in liberating the poor, 
then it was not by telling them that they were the living em- 

The Social Question 63 

bodimcnts of some historical or other necessity, but by per- 
suading them that poverty itself is a political, not a natural 
phenomenon, the result of violence and violation rather than of 
scarcity. For if the condition of misery - which by definition 
never can produce 'free-minded people' because it is the con- 
dition of being bound to necessity - was to generate revolutions 
instead of sending them to their doom, it was necessary to 
translate economic conditions into political factors and to ex- 
plain them in political terms. 

Marx's model of explanation was the ancient institution of 
slavery, where clearly a 'ruling class', as he was to call it, had 
possessed itself of the means with which to force a subject class 
to bear life's toil and burden for it. Marx's hope, expressed with 
the Hegelian term of class-consciousness, rose from the fact that 
the modern age had emancipated this subject class to the point 
where it might recover its ability to act, while its action at the 
same time would become irresistible by virtue of the very neces- 
sity under which emancipation had put the working class. For 
the liberation of the labourers in the initial stages of the Indus- 
trial Revolution was indeed to some extent contradictory : it had 
liberated them from their masters only to put them under a 
stronger taskmaster, their daily needs and wants, the force, in 
other words, with which necessity drives and compels men and 
which is more compelling than violence. Marx, whose general 
and often inexplicit outlook was still firmly rooted in the insti- 
tutions and theories of the ancients, knew this very well, and it 
was perhaps the most potent reason why he was so eager to 
believe with Hegel in a dialectical process in which freedom 
would rise directly out of necessity. 

Marx's place in the history of human freedom will always 
remain equivocal. It is true that in his early work he spoke of 
the social question in political terms and interpreted the pre- 
dicament of poverty in categories of oppression and exploita- 
tion; yet it was also Marx who, in almost all of his writings after 
the Communist Manifesto^ redefined the truly revolutionary 
6lan of his youth in economic terms. While he had first seen 
man-made violence and oppression of man by man where others 
had believed in some necessity inherent in the human condition, 

64 On Revolution 

he later saw the iron laws of historical necessity lurking behind ' 
every violence, transgression, and violation. And since he, un- 
like his predecessors in the modern age but very much like his 
teachers in antiquity, equated necessity with the compelling 
urges of the life process, he finally strengthened more than any- 
body else the politically most pernicious doctrine of the modern 
age, namely that life is the highest good, and that the life pro- 
cess of society is the very centre of human endeavour. Thus the 
role of revolution was no longer to liberate men from the 
oppression of their fellow men, let alone to found freedom, but 
to liberate the life process of society from the fetters of scarcity 
so that it could swell into a stream of abundance. Not freedom 
but abundance became now the aim of revolution. 

It would, however, be unjust to blame this well-known differ- 
ence between the early and the later writings of Marx upon 
psychological or biographical causes and to see it as a real change 
of heart. Even as an old man, in 1871, Marx was still revolu- 
tionary enough to welcome enthusiastically the Parisian Com- 
mune, although this outbreak contradicted all his theories and 
all his predictions. It is much more likely that the trouble was 
of a theoretical nature. After he had denounced economic and 
social conditions in political terms, it very soon must have 
dawned upon him that his categories were reversible and that 
theoretically it was just as possible to interpret politics in 
economic terms as vice versa. (This reversibility of concepts is 
inherent in all stricdy Hegelian categories of thought.) Once an 
actually existing relation between violence and necessity was 
established, there was no reason why he should not think of 
violence in terms of necessity and understand oppression as 
caused by economic factors, even though originally this rela- 
tionship had been discovered the other way round, namely by 
unmasking necessity as man-made violence. This interpretation 
must have appealed very strongly to his theoretical sense be- 
cause the reduction of violence to necessity offers the undeniable 
theoretical advantage that it is much more elegant; it simplifies 
matters to the point where an actual distinction between vio- 
lence and necessity has become superfluous. For violence can 
indeed be easily understood as a function or a surface phenome- 

The Social Question fe 

non of an underlying and overruling necessity, but necessity, 
which we invariably carry with us in the very existence of our 
bodies and their needs, can never be simply reduced to and 
completely absorbed by violence and violation. It was the scien- 
tist in Marx, and the ambition to raise his *science' to the rank 
of natural science, whose chief category then was still neces- 
sity, that tempted him into the reversal of his own categories. 
Politically, this development led Marx into an actual sur- 
render of freedom to necessity. He did what his teacher in 
revolution, Robespierre, had done before him and what his 
greatest disciple, Lenin, was to do after him in the most momen- 
tous revolution his teachings have yet inspired. 

It has become customary to view all these surrenders, and es- 
pecially the last one through Lenin, as foregone conclusions, 
chiefly because we find it difficultfo judge any of these men, and 
again most of all Lenin, in their own right, and not as mere 
forerunners. (It is perhaps noteworthy that Lenin, unlike 
Hitler and Stalin, has not yet found his definitive biographer, 
although he was not merely a *bctter' but an incomparably simp- 
ler man; it may be because his role in twentieth-century his- 
tory is so much more equivocal and difficult to understand.) Yet 
even Lenin, despite his dogmatic Marxism, might perhaps have 
been capable of avoiding this surrender; it was after all the same 
man who once, when asked to state in one sentence the essence 
and the aims of the October Revolution, gave the curious and 
long-forgotten formula: Electrification plus Soviets .' This 
answer is remarkable first for what it omits: the role of the 
party, on one side, the building of socialism on the other. In 
their stead, we are given an entirely un-Marxist separation of 
economics and politics, a differentiation between electrification 
as the solution of Russia's social question, and the soviet system 
as her new body politic that had emerged during the revolution 
outside all parties. What is perhaps even more surprising in a 
Marxist is the suggestion that the problem of poverty is not to 
be solved through socialization and socialism, but through tech- 
nical means; for technology, in contrast to socialization, is of 
course politically neutral; it neither prescribes nor precludes 
any specific form of government. In other words, the liberation 

66 On Revolution 

from the curse of poverty would come about through electrifica- 
tion, but the rise of freedom through a new form of govern- 
ment, the Soviets. This was one of the not infrequent instances 
when Lenin's gifts as a statesman overruled his Marxist train- 
ing and ideological convictions. 

Not for long, to be sure. He surrendered the possibilities for 
a rational, non-ideological economic development of the 
country together with the potentialities of new institutions for 
freedom when he decided that only the Bolshevik party could 
be the driving force for both electrification and Soviets; he him- 
self thus established the precedent for the later development in 
which the party and the party apparatus became literally omni- 
potent. However, he probably surrendered his earlier position 
for economic rather than political reasons, less for the sake of the 
party's power than for the sake of electrification. He was con- 
vinced that an incompetent people in a backward country would 
be unable to conquer poverty under conditions of political free- 
dom, unable, at any rate, to defeat poverty and to found free- 
dom simultaneously. Lenin was the last heir of the French 
Revolution; he had no theoretical concept of freedom, but when 
he was confronted with it in factual reality he understood what 
was at stake, and when he sacrificed the new institutions of 
freedom, the soviets i to the party which he thought would liber- 
ate the poor, his motivation and reasoning were still in accord 
with the tragic failures of the French revolutionary tradition. 

The idea that poverty should help men to break the shackles 
of oppression, because the poor have nothing to lose but their 
chains, has become so familiar through Marx's teachings that 
we are tempted to forget that it was unheard of prior to the 
actual course of the French Revolution. True, a common pre- 
judice, dear to the hearts of those who loved freedom, told men 
of the eighteenth century that 'Europe for more than twelve 
centuries past, has presented to view ... a constant effort, on the 
part of the people to extricate themselves from the oppression of 

The Social Question 67 

their rulers.' 4 But by people these men did not mean the poor, 
and the prejudice of the nineteenth century that all revolutions 
are social in origin was still quite absent from eighteenth-cen- 
tury theory or experience. As a matter of fact, when the men of 
the American Revolution came to France and were actually con- 
fronted with the social conditions on the continent, with those of 
the poor as well as of the rich, they no longer believed with 
Washington that 'the American Revolution . . . seems to have 
opened the eyes of almost every nation in Europe, and [that] 
a spirit of equal liberty appears fast to be gaining ground every- 
where.' Some of them, even before, had warned the French 
officers, who had fought with them in the War of Independ- 
ence, lest their 'hopes be influenced by our triumphs on this 
virgin soil. You will carry our sentiments with you, but if you 
try to plant them in a country that has been corrupt for cen- 
turies, you will encounter obstacles more formidable than ours. 
Our liberty has been wOn with blood; yours will have to be 
shed in torrents before liberty can take root in the old world.'* 
But their chief reason was much more concrete. It was (as 
Jefferson wrote two years before the outbreak of the French 
Revolution) that 'of twenty millions of people ... there are 
nineteen millions more wretched, more accursed in every circum- 
stance of human existence than the most conspicuously wretched 
individual of the whole United States.' (Thus Franklin before 
him had found himself in Paris thinking 'often of the happiness 
of New England, where every man is a Freeholder, has a vote 
in publick Affairs, lives in a tidy warm House, has plenty of 
good Food and Fewel . . .') Nor did Jefferson expect any great 
deeds from the rest of society, from those who lived in comfort 
and luxury; their conduct in his view was ruled by 'manners', 
the adoption of which would be 'a step to perfect misery' every- 
where. 6 Not for a moment did it occur to him that people so 
'loaded with misery' - the twofold misery of poverty and cor- 
ruption - would be able to achieve what had been achieved in 
America. On the contrary, he warned that these were 'by no 
means the free-minded people we suppose them in America', 
and John Adams was convinced that a free republican govern- 
ment 'was as unnatural, irrational, and impracticable as it would 

68 On Revolution 

be over elephants, lions, tigers, panthers, wolves, and bears, in 
the royal menagerie at Versailles'. 7 And when, some twenty- 
five years later, events to an extent had proved him right, and 
Jefferson thought back to 'the canaille of the cities of Europe' in 
whose hands any degree of freedom 'would be instantly per- 
verted to the demolition and destruction of everything private 
and public', 8 he had in mind both the rich and the poor, cor- 
ruption and misery. 

Nothing could be less fair than to take the success of the 
American Revolution for granted and to sit in judgement over 
the failure of the men of the French Revolution. The success 
was not due merely to the wisdom of the founders of the re- 
public, although this wisdom was of a very high calibre indeed. 
The point to remember is that the American Revolution suc- 
ceeded, and still did not usher in the novus or do saeclorum, 
that the Constitution could be established 'in fact*, as 'a real 
existence . . . , in a visible form', and still did not become 'to 
Liberty what grammar is to language'. 9 The reason for succesi 
and failure was that the predicament of poverty was absent froir 
the American scene but present everywhere else in the worldi 
This is a sweeping statement and stands in need of a twofold 

What were absent from the American scene were misery and 
want rather than poverty, for 'the controversy between the 
rich and the poor, the laborious and the idle, the learned and 
the ignorant* was still very much present on the American 
scene and preoccupied the minds of the founders, who, despite 
the prosperity of their country, were convinced that these dis- 
tinctions - 'as old as the creation and as extensive as the globe' 
- were eternal. 10 Yet, since the laborious in America were poor 
but not miserable - the observations of English and Continental 
travellers are unanimous and unanimously amazed : 'In a course 
of 1,200 miles I did not see a single object that solicited charity' 
(Andrew Burnaby) - they were not driven by want, and the 
revolution was not overwhelmed by them. The problem they 
posed was not social but political, it concerned not the order of 
society but the form of government. The point was that the 
'continual toil' and want of leisure of the majority of the popu- 

The Social Question 69 

lation would automatically exclude them from active participa- 
tion in government - though, of course, not from being repre- 
sented and from choosing their representatives. But representa- 
tion is no more than a matter of 'self-preservation' or self-interest, 
necessary to protect the lives of the labourers and to shield them 
against the encroachment of government; these essentially nega- 
tive safeguards by no means open the political realm to the 
many, nor can they arouse in them that 'passion for distinction* 
- the 'desire not only to equal or resemble, but to excel' - 
which, according to John Adams, 'next to self-preservation will 
forever be the great spring of human actions'. 11 Hence the pre- 
dicament of the poor after their self-preservation has been 
assured is that their lives are without consequence, and that 
they remain excluded from the light of the public realm where 
excellence can shine; they stand in darkness wherever they go. 
As John Adams saw it : The poor man's conscience is clear; yet 
he is ashamed ... He feels himself out of the sight of others, 
groping in the dark. Mankind takes no notice of him. He 
rambles and wanders unheeded. In the midst of a crowd, at 
church, in the market ... he is in as much obscurity as he would 
be in a garret or a cellar. He is not disapproved, censured, or 
reproached; he is only not seen ... To be wholly overlooked, 
and to know it, are intolerable. If Crusoe on his island had 
the library of Alexandria, and a certainty that he should never 
again see the face of man, would he ever open a volume?' 12 

I have quoted these words at some length because the feeling 
of injustice they express, the conviction that darkness rather 
than want is the curse of poverty, is extremely rare in the litera- 
ture of the modern age, although one may suspect that Marx's 
effort to rewrite history in terms of class struggle was partially 
at least inspired by the desire to rehabilitate posthumously those 
to whose injured lives history had added the insult of oblivion. 
Obviously, it was the absence of misery which enabled John 
Adams to discover the political predicament of the poor, but his 
insight into the crippling consequences of obscurity, in contrast 
to the more obvious ruin which want brought to human life, 
could hardly be shared by the poor themselves; and since it re- 
mained a privileged knowledge it had hardly any influence 

70 On Revolution 

upon the history of revolutions or the revolutionary tradition. 
When, in America and elsewhere, the poor became wealthy, 
they did not become men of leisure whose actions were 
prompted by a desire to excel, but succumbed to the boredom 
of vacant time, and while they too developed a taste for 'con- 
sideration and congratulation', they were content to get these 
'goods' as cheaply as possible, that is, they eliminated the passion 
for distinction and excellence that can exert itself only in the 
broad daylight of the public. The end of government remained 
for them self-preservation, and John Adams' conviction that 'it 
is a principal end of government to regulate [the passion for dis- 
tinction] ' 13 has not even become a matter of controversy, it is 
simply forgotten. Instead of entering the market-place, where 
excellence can shine, they preferred, as it were, to throw open 
their private houses in 'conspicuous consumption', to display 
their wealth and to show what, by its very nature, is not fit to 
be seen by all. 

However, these present-day worries of how to prevent the 
poor of yesterday from developing their own code of behaviour 
and from imposing it on the body politic, once they have become 
rich, were still quite absent from the eighteenth century, and 
even today these American cares, though real enough under the 
conditions of affluence, may appear sheer luxury in comparison 
with the cares and worries of the rest of the world. Moreover, 
modern sensibility is not touched by obscurity, not even by the 
frustration of 'natural talent' and of the 'desire of superiority* 
which goes with it. And the fact that John Adams was so deeply 
moved by it, more deeply than he or anyone else of the Found- 
ing Fathers was ever moved by sheer misery, must strike us as 
very strange indeed when we remind ourselves that the absence 
of the social question from the American scene was, after all, 
quite deceptive, and that abject and degrading misery was pres- 
ent everywhere in the form of slavery and Negro labour. 

History tells us that it is by no means a matter of course for 
the spectacle of misery to move men to pity; even during the 
long centuries when the Christian religion of mercy determined 
moral standards of Western civilization, compassion operated 
outside the political realm and frequently outside the estab- 

The Social Question 71 

lished hierarchy of the Church. Yet we deal here with men of 
the eighteenth century, when this age-old indifference was about 
to disappear, and when, in the words of Rousseau, an 'innate 
repugnance at seeing a fellow creature suffer' had become com- 
mon in certain strata of European society and precisely among 
those who made the French Revolution. Since then, the pas- 
sion of compassion has haunted and driven the best men of all 
revolutions, and the only revolution in which compassion played 
no role in the motivation of the actors was the American Revo- 
lution. If it were not for the presence of Negro slavery on the 
American scene, one would be tempted to explain this striking 
aspect exclusively by American prosperity, by Jefferson's 'lovely 
equality', or by the fact that America was indeed, in William 
Penn's words, 'a good poor Man's country'. As it is, we are 
tempted to ask ourselves if the goodness of the poor white man's 
country did not depend to a considerable degree upon black 
labour and black misery - there lived roughly 400,000 Negroes 
along with approximately 1,850,000 white men in America in the 
middle of the eighteenth century, and even in the absence of re- 
liable statistical data we may be sure that the percentage of 
complete destitution and misery was considerably lower in the 
countries of the Old World. From this, we can only conclude 
that the institution of slavery carries an obscurity even blacker 
than the obscurity of poverty; the slave, not the poor man, was 
'wholly overlooked'. For if Jefferson, and others to a lesser 
degree, were aware of the primordial crime upon which the 
fabric of American society rested, if they 'trembled when [they] 
thought that God is just' (Jefferson), they did so because they 
were convinced of the incompatibility of the institution of 
slavery with the foundation of freedom, not because they were 
moved by pity or by a feeling of solidarity with their fellow 
men. And this indifference, difficult for us to understand, was 
not peculiar to Americans and hence must be blamed on slavery 
lather than on any perversion of the heart or upon the domin- 
ance of self-interest. For European witnesses in the eighteenth 
century, who were moved to compassion by the spectacle of 
European social conditions, did not react differently. They too 
thought the specific difference between America and Europe lay 

72 On Revolution 

'in the absence of that abject state which condemns [a part of 
the human race] to ignorance and poverty'. 1 * Slavery was no 
more part of the social question for Europeans than it was for 
Americans, so that the social question, whether genuinely ab- 
sent or only hidden in darkness, was non-existent for all prac- 
tical purposes, and with it, the most powerful and perhaps the 
most devastating passion motivating revolutionaries, the pas- - 
sion of compassion. 

In order to avoid misunderstandings: the social question 
with which we are concerned here because of its role in revolu- 
tion must not be equated with the lack of equality of oppor- 
tunity or the problem of social status which in the last few 
decades has become a major topic of the social sciences. The 
game of status-seeking is common enough in certain strata of 
our society, but it was entirely absent from the society of the 
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and no revolutionary ever 
thought it his task to introduce mankind to it or to teach the 
underprivileged the rules of the game. How alien these present- 
day categories would have been to the minds of the founders of 
the republic can perhaps best be seen in their attitude to the 
question of education, which was of great importance to them, 
not, however, in order to enable every citizen to rise on the 
social ladder, but because the welfare of the country and the 
functioning of its political institutions hinged upon education of 
all citizens. They demanded 'that every citizen should receive 
an education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his 
life', whereby it was understood that for the purpose of educa- 
tion the citizens would 'be divided into two classes - the labour- 
ing and the learned' since it would be 'expedient for promoting 
the public happiness that those persons, whom nature hath 
endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered . . . able 
to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their 
fellow citizens ... without regard to wealth, birth, or other 
accidental condition and circumstance'. 15 Even the nineteenth- 
century liberals' concern with the individual's right to full 
development of all his gifts was clearly absent from these con- 
siderations, as was their special sensitivity to the injustice 
inherent in the frustration of talent, closely connected with their 

The Social Question 73 

worship o£ genius, let alone the present-day notion that every- 
body has a right to social advancement and hence to education, 
not because he is gifted but because society owes him the de- 
velopment of skills with which to improve his status. 

The realistic views of the Founding Fathers with regard to 
the shortcomings of human nature are notorious, but the new 
assumptions of social scientists that those who belong to the 
lower classes of society have, as it were, a right to burst with 
resentment, greed, and envy would have astounded them, not 
only because they would have held that envy and greed are 
vices no matter where we find them, but perhaps also because 
their very realism might have told them that such vices are 
much more frequent in the upper than in the lower social 
strata. 16 Social mobility was of course relatively high even in 
eighteenth-century America, but it was not promoted by the 
Revolution; and if the French Revolution opened careers to 
talent, and very forcefully indeed, this did not occur until after 
the Directory and Napoleon Bonaparte, when it was no longer 
freedom and the foundation of a republic which were at stake 
but the liquidation of the Revolution and the rise of the bour- 
geoisie. In our context, the point of the matter is that only the 
predicament of poverty, and not either individual frustration or 
social ambitions, can arouse compassion. And with the role of 
compassion in revolutions, that is, in all except the American 
Revolution, we must now concern ourselves. 

To avert one's eyes from the misery and unhappiness of the 
mass of humankind was no more possible in eighteenth-century 
Paris, or in nineteenth-century London, where Marx and Engels 
were to ponder the lessons of the French Revolution, than it is 
today in some European, most Latin American, and nearly all 
Asian and African countries. To be sure, the men of the French 
Revolution had been inspired by hatred of tyranny, and they had 
no less risen in rebellion against oppression than the men who, 
in the admiring words of Daniel Webster, 'went to war for a 

74 On Revolution 

preamble 1 , and 'fought seven years for a declaration*. Against 
tyranny and oppression, not against exploitation and poverty, 
they had asserted the rights of the people from whose consent 
- according to Roman antiquity, in whose school the revo- 
lutionary spirit was taught and educated - all power must de- 
rive its legitimacy. Since they themselves were clearly politically 
powerless and hence among the oppressed, they felt they be- 
longed to the people, and they did not need to summon up any 
solidarity with them. If they became their spokesmen, it was not 
in the sense that they did something for the people, be it for the 
sake of power over them or out of love for them; they spoke 
and acted as their representatives in a common cause. However, 
what turned out to remain true through the thirteen years of the 
American Revolution was quickly revealed to be mere fiction in 
the course of the French Revolution. 

In France the downfall of the monarchy did not change the 
relationship between rulers and ruled, between government and 
the nation, and no change of government seemed able to heal 
the rift between them. The revolutionary governments, in this 
respect not unlike their predecessors, were neither of the people 
nor by the people, but at best for the people, and at worst a 
'usurpation "of sovereign power' by self-styled representatives 
who had put themselves 'in absolute independence with respect 
to the nation'. 17 The trouble was that the chief difference be- 
tween the nation and its representatives in all factions had very 
little to do with 'virtue and genius', as Robespierre and others 
had hoped, but lay exclusively in the conspicuous difference of 
social condition which came to light only after the revolution 
had been achieved. The inescapable fact was that liberation from 
tyranny spelled freedom only for the few and was hardly felt 
by the many who remained loaded down by their misery. These 
had to be liberated once more, and compared' to this liberation 
from the yoke of necessity, the original liberation from tyranny 
must have looked like child's play. Moreover, in this liberation, 
the men of the Revolution and the people whom they repre- 
sented were no longer united by objective bonds in a common 
cause; a special effort was required of the representatives, an 
effort of solidarization which Robespierre called virtue, and this 

The Social Question 75 

virtue was not Roman, it did not aim at the res publica and had 
nothing to do with freedom. Virtue meant to have the welfare 
of the people in mind, to identify one's own will with the will 
of the people - il faut une volonte UNE - and this effort was 
directed primarily toward the happiness of the many. After the 
downfall of the Gironde, il was no longer freedom but happi- 
ness that became the 'new idea in Europe' (Saint-Just). 

The words le peuple are the key words for every under- 
standing of the French Revolution, and their connotations were 
determined by those who were exposed to the spectacle of the 
people's sufferings, which they themselves did not share. For 
the first time, the word covered more than those who did not 
participate in government, not the citizens but the low people. 18 
The very definition of the word was born out of compassion, 
and the term became the equivalent for misfortune and un- 
happiness - le peuple, les malheureux m'applaudissent, as Robes- 
pierre was wont to say; le peuple toujour s malheureux, as even 
Sieyes, one of the least sentimental and most sober figures of 
the Revolution, would put it. By the same token, the personal 
legitimacy of those who represented the people and were con- 
vinced that all legitimate power must derive from them, could 
reside only in ce zele compatissant, in 'that imperious impulse 
which attracts us towards les hommes faibles\ 19 in short, in the 
capacity to suffer with the 'immense class of the poor', accom- 
panied by the will to raise compassion to the rank of the 
supreme political passion and of the highest political virtue. 

Historically speaking, compassion became the driving force of 
the revolutionaries only after the Girondins had failed to pro- 
duce a constitution and to establish a republican government. 
The Revolution had come to its turning point when the Jaco- 
bins, under the leadership of Robespierre, seized power, not be- 
cause they were more radical but because they did not share 
the Girondins' concern with forms of government, because they 
believed in the people rather than in the republic, and 'pinned 
their faith on the natural goodness of a class' rather than on 
institutions and constitutions: 'Under the new Constitution', 
Robespierre insisted, laws should be promulgated "in the name 
of the French people" instead of the "French Republic".' 20 

j6 On Revolution 

This shift of emphasis was caused not by any theory but by 
the course of the Revolution. However, it is obvious that under 
these circumstances ancient theory, with its emphasis on popular 
consent as a prerequisite of lawful government, could no longer 
be adequate, and to the wisdom of hindsight it appears almost 
as a matter of course that Rousseau's volonti generate should 
have replaced the ancient notion of consent which, in Rousseau's 
theory, may be found as the volontS de tous? 1 The latter, 
the will of all, or consent, was not only not dynamic or revolu- 
tionary enough for the constitution of a new body politic, or the 
establishment of government, it obviously presupposed the very 
existence of government and hence could be deemed sufficient 
only for particular decisions and the settling of problems as 
they arose within a given body politic. These formalistic con- 
siderations, however, are of secondary importance. It was of 
greater relevance that the very word Consent', with its overtones 
of deliberate choice and considered opinion, was replaced by the 
word 'will', which essentially excludes all processes of exchange 
of opinions and an eventual agreement between them. The will, 
if it is to function at all, must indeed be one and indivisible, 'a 
divided will would be inconceivable'; there is no possible media- 
tion between wills as there is between opinions. The shift from 
the republic to the people meant that the enduring unity of 
the future political body was guaranteed not in the worldly 
institutions which this people had in common, but in the will 
of the people themselves. The outstanding quality of this popu- 
lar will as volonte genSrale was its unanimity, and when Robes- 
pierre constantly referred to 'public opinion', he meant by it the 
unanimity of the general will; he did not think of an opinion 
upon which many publicly were in agreement. 

This enduring unity of a people inspired by one will must not 
be mistaken for stability. Rousseau' took his metaphor of a 
general will seriously and literally enough to conceive of the 
nation as a body driven by one will, like an individual, which 
also can change direction at any time without losing its identity. 
It was precisely in this sense that Robespierre demanded: 'II 
faut une volonte UNE ... II faut qu'elle soit republicaine ou 
royaliste.' Rousseau therefore insisted that it would 'be absurd 

The Social Question 77 

for the will to bind itself for the future*, 22 thus anticipating the 
fateful instability and faithlessness of revolutionary governments 
as well as justifying the old fateful conviction of the nation- 
state that treaties are binding only so long as they serve the so- 
called national interest. This notion of raison d'etat is older than 
the French Revolution for the simple reason that the concept of 
one will, presiding over the destinies and representing the in- 
terests of the nation as a whole, was the current interpretation 
of the national role to be played by an enlightened monarch 
whom the revolution had abolished. The problem was indeed 
how 'to bring twenty-five millions of Frenchmen who had never 
known or thought of any law but the King's will to rally round 
any free constitution at all', as John Adams once remarked. 
Hence, the very attraction of Rousseau's theory for the men of 
the French Revolution was that- he apparently had found a 
highly ingenious means to put a multitude into the place of a 
single person; for the general will was nothing more or less 
than what bound the many into one. 

For his construction of such a many-headed one, Rousseau 
relied on a deceptively simple and plausible example. He took 
his cue from the common experience that two conflicting in- 
terests will bind themselves together when they are confronted 
by a third that equally opposes them both. Politically speaking, 
he presupposed the existence and relied upon the unifying 
power of the common national enemy. Only in the presence of 
the enemy can such a thing as la nation une et indivisible, the 
ideal of French and of all other nationalism, come to pass. 
Hence, national unity can assert itself only in foreign affairs, 
under circumstances of, at least, potential hostility. This conclu- 
sion has been the seldom-admitted stock-in-trade of national 
politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it is so ob- 
viously a consequence of the general-will theory that Saint-Just 
was already quite familiar with it: only foreign affairs, he in- 
sisted, can properly be called 'political', while human relations 
as such constitute 'the social'. ('Seules les affaires etrangeres 
relevaient de la "politique", tandis que les rapports humains 
formaient "le social".') 23 

Rousseau himself, however, went one step further. He wished 

78 On Revolution 

to discover a unifying principle within the nation itself that 
would be valid for domestic politics as well. Thus, his problem 
was where to detect a common enemy outside the range of 
foreign affairs, and his solution was that such an enemy existed 
within the breast of each citizen, namely, in his particular will 
and interest; the point of the matter was that this hidden, 
particular enemy could rise to the rank of a common enemy - 
unifying the nation from within - if one only added up all 
particular wills and interests. The common enemy within the 
nation is the sum total of the particular interests of all citizens. 
* "The agreement of two particular interests" ', says Rousseau, 
quoting the Marquis d'Argenson, ' "is formed by opposition to 
a third." [Argenson] might have added that the agreement of 
all interests is formed by opposition to that of each. If there were 
no different interests, the common interest would be barely felt, 
as it would encounter no obstacle; all would go on of its own 
accord, and politics would cease to be an art' 24 (my italics). 

The reader may have noted the curious equation of will and 
interest on which the whole body of Rousseau's political theory 
rests. He uses the terms synonymously throughout the Social 
Contract, and his silent assumption is that the will is some sort 
of automatic articulation of interest. Hence, the general will is 
the articulation of a general interest, the interest of the people 
or the nation as a whole, and because this interest or will is 
general, its very existence hinges on its being opposed to each 
interest or will in particular. In Rousseau's construction, the 
nation need not wait for an enemy to threaten its borders in 
order to rise 'like one man' and to bring about the union sacree; 
the oneness of the nation is guaranteed in so far as each citizen 
carries within himself the common enemy as well as the general 
interest which the common enemy brings into existence; for 
the common enemy is the particular interest or the particular 
will of each man. If only each particular man rises against him- 
self in his particularity, he will be able to arouse in himself his 
own antagonist, the general will, and thus he will become a 
true citizen of the national body politic. For 'if one takes away 
from [all particular] wills the plusses and minuses that cancel 
one another, the general will remains the sum of the differ- 

The Social Question 79 

ences.* To partake in the body politic of the nation, each 
national must rise and remain in constant rebellion against 

To be sure, no national statesman has followed Rousseau to 
this logical extreme, and while the current nationalist concepts of 
citizenship depend to a very large extent upon the presence of 
the common enemy from abroad, we find nowhere the assump- 
tion that the common enemy resides in everybody's heart. It is 
different, however, with the revolutionists and the tradition of 
revolution. It was not only in the French Revolution but in all 
revolutions which its example inspired that the common interest 
appeared in the guise of the common enemy, and the theory of 
terror from Robespierre to Lenin and Stalin presupposes that the 
interest of the whole must automatically, and indeed per- 
manently, be hostile to the particular interest of the citizen. 25 
One has often been struck by the peculiar selflessness of the revo- 
lutionists, which should not be confused with 'idealism* or 
heroism. Virtue has indeed been equated with selflessness ever 
since J^Qbespierre, preached a virtue that was borrowed from 
Rousseau, and it is the equation which has put, as it were, its in- 
delible stamp upon the revolutionary man and his innermost 
conviction that the value of a policy may be gauged by the 
extent to which it will contradict all particular interests, and that 
rhft value <>f a man may hp judged hy the extent to which he 
actsagajnstjusjown jLnterestand.against hisjawn will. 

Whatever theoretically the explanations and consequences of 
Rousseau's teachings might be, the point of the matter is that the 
actual experiences underlying Rousseau's selflessness and Robes- 
pierre's 'terror of virtue* cannot be understood without taking 
into account the crucial role compassion had come to play in the 
minds and hearts of those who prepared and of those who acted 
in the course of the French Revolution. To Robespierre, it was 
obvious that the one force which could and must unite the differ- 
ent classes of society into one nation was the compassion of those 
who did not suffer with those who were malheureux, of the 
higher classes with the low people. The goodness of man in a 
state of nature had become axiomatic for Rousseau because he 

80 On Revolution 

found compassion to be the most natural human reaction to the 
suffering of others, and therefore the very foundation of all 
authentic 'natural' human intercourse. Not that Rousseau, or 
Robespierre for that matter, had ever experienced the innate 
goodness of natural man outside society; they deduced his 
existence from the corruption of society, much as one who has 
intimate knowledge of rotten apples may account for their 
rottenness by assuming the original existence of healthy ones. 
What they knew from inner experience was the eternal play 
between reason and the passions, on one side, the inner dialogue 
of thought in which man converses with himself, on the other. 
And since they identified thought with reason, they concluded 
that reason interfered with passion and compassion alike, that 
it 'turns man's mind back upon itself, and divides him from 
everything that could disturb or afflict him'. Reason makes man 
selfish; it prevents nature 'from identifying itself with the unfor- 
tunate sufferer*; or, in the words of Saint-Just : 'II faut ramener 
toutes les definitions a la conscience; l'esprit est un sophiste qui 
conduit toutes les vertus a l'echafaud.' 26 

We are so used to ascribing the rebellion against reason to the 
early romanticism of the nineteenth century and to under- 
standing, in contrast, the eighteenth century in terms of an 'en- 
lightened* rationalism, with the Temple of Reason as its 
somewhat grotesque symbol, that we are likely to overlook or 
to underestimate the strength of these early pleas for passion, 
for the heart, for the soul, and especially for the soul torn into 
two, for Rousseau's dme dechirie. It is as though Rousseau, in 
his rebellion against reason, had put a soul, torn into two, into 
the place of the two-in-one that manifests itself in the silent 
dialogue of the mind with itself which we call thinking. And 
since the two-in-one of the soul is a conflict and not a dialogue, 
it engenders passion in its twofold sense of intense suffering and 
of intense passionateness. It was this capacity for suffering that 
Rousseau had pitted against the selfishness of society on one side, 
against the undisturbed solitude of the mind, engaged in a dia- 
logue with itself, on the other. And it was to this emphasis on 
suffering, more than to any other part of his teachings, that he 
owed the enormous, predominant influence over the minds of 

The Social Question 81 

the men who were to make the Revolution and who found them- 
selves confronted with the overwhelming sufferings of the poor 
to whom they had opened the doors to the public realm and its 
light for the first time in history. What counted here, in this 
great effort of a general human solidarization, was selflessness, 
the capacity to lose oneself in the sufferings of others, rather than 
aciive goodness, and what appeared most odious and even most 
dangerous was selfishness rather than wickedness. These men, 
moreover, were much better acquainted with vice than they 
were witlx^dJi they had seen the vices of the rich and their in- 
credible selfishness, and they concluded that virtue must be 'the 
appanage of misfortune and the patrimony' of the poor. They 
had watched how 'the charms of pleasure were escorted by 
crime', and they argued that the torments of misery must 
engender goodness. 27 The magic* of compassion was that it 
opened the heart of the sufferer to the sufferings of others, 
whereby it established and confirmed the 'natural' bond between 
men which only the rich had lost. Where passion, the capacity 
for suffering, and compassion, the capacity for suffering with 
others, ended, vice began. Selfishness was a kind of 'natural* 
depravity. If Rousseau had introduced compassion into political 
theory, it was Robespierre who brought it on to the market-place 
with the vehemence of his great revolutionary oratory. 

It was perhaps unavoidable that the problem of good and evil, 
of their impact upon the course of human destinies, in its stark^ 
unsophisticated simplicity should have haunted the minds of 
men at the very moment when they were asserting or reasserting 
human dignity without any resort to institutionalized religion. 
But the depth of this problem could hardly be sounded by those 
who mistook for goodness the natural, 'innate repugnance of 
man to see his fellow creatures suffer' (Rousseau), and who 
thought that selfishness and hypocrisy were the epitome of 
wickedness. More importantly even, the terrifying question of 
good and evil, could not even be posed, at least not in the 
frameworlTof Western traditions, without taking into account 
the only completely valid, completely convincing experience 
Western mankind had ever had with active love of goodness as 
the inspiring principle of all actions, that is, without considers* 

82 On Revolution 

tion of the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This consideration came 
to pass in the aftermath of the Revolution, and while it is true 
that neither Rousseau nor Robespierre had been able to measure 
up to the questions which the teachings of the one and the acts 
of the other had brought onto the agenda of the following 
generations, it may also be true that without them and without 
the French Revolution neither Melville nor Dostoevski would 
have dared to undo the haloed transformation of Jesus of 
Nazareth into Christ, to make him return to the world of men - 
the one in Billy Buddy and the other in 'The Grand Inquisitor* - 
and to show openly and concretely, though of course poetically^ 
and metaphorically, upon what tragic and self-defeating enter- 
prise the men of the French Revolution had embarked almost 
without knowing it. If we want to know what absolute good- 
ness would signify for the course of human affairs (as distin- 
guished from the course of divine matters), we had better turn 
to the poets, and we can do it safely enough as long as we 
remember that 'the poet but embodies in verse those exaltations 
of sentiment that a nature like Nelson's, the opportunity being 
given, vitalizes into acts' (Melville). At least we can learn from 
them that absolute goodness is hardly any less dangerous than 
absoluteevil, that it does not consist in selflessness, for surely the 
Grand Inquisitor is selfless enough, and that it is beyond virtue, 
even the virtue of Captain Vere. Neither Rousseau nor Robes- 
pierre was capable of dreaming of a goodness beyond virtue, 
just as they were unable to imagine that jgdic aLgyU would 
*partake nothing of the sordid or sensual' (Melville), that there 
could be wickedness beyond vice. 

That the men of the French Revolution should have been un- 
able to think in these terms, and therefore never really touched 
the heart of the matter which their own actions had brought to 
the fore, is actually almost a matter of course. Obviously, they 
knew at most the principles that inspired their acts, but hardly 
the meaning of the story which eventually was to result from 
them. Melville and Dostoevski, at any rate, even if they had not 
been the great writers and thinkers they actually both were, cer- 
tainly were in a better position to know what it all had been 
about. Melville especially, since he could draw from a much 

The Social Question 83 

richer range of political experience than Dostoevski, knew how 
to talk back directly to the men of the French Revolution and to 
their proposition that man is good in a state of nature and be* 
comes wickedj n society. This he did in Billy Budd, where it is 
as though he said : Let us assume you are right and your 'natural 
man*, born outside the ranks of society, a '.foundling' endowed 
with nothing but a barbarian' innocence and goodness, were to 
walk the earth again - for surely it would be a return, a second 
coming; you certainly remember that this happened before; you 
can't have forgotten the story which became the foundation 
legend of Christian civilization. But in case you have forgotten, 
let me retell you the story in the context of your own circum- 
stances and even in your own terminology. 

Compassion and goodness may be related phenomena, but they 
are not the same. Compassion plays a role, even an important 
one, in Billy Budd, but its topic is goodness beyond virtue and 
eviLb eyond vice, and the plot of the story consists in confronting 
these two. Goodness beyond virtue is natural goodness and 
wickedness beyond vice is 'a depravity according to nature' 
which 'partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual'. Both are out- 
side society, and the two men who embody them come, socially 
speaking, from nowhere. Not only is Billy Budd a foundling; 
Claggart, his antagonist, is likewise a man whose origin is un- 
known. In the confrontation itself there is nothing tragic; natural 
goodness, though it 'stammers' and cannot make itself heard 
and understood, is stronger than wjc^ejdness because wi ckedn ess 
is nature's depravity, and 'natural'" nature is stronger than de- 
praved and perverted nature. The greatness of this part of the 
story lies in that goodness, because it is part of 'nature', does 
not act meekly but asserts itself forcefully and, indeed, violently 
so that we are convinced : only the violent act with which Billy 
Budd strikes dead the man who bore false witness against him is 
adequate, it eliminates nature's 'depravity'. This, however, is 
not the end but the beginning of the story. The story unfolds 
after 'nature' has run its course, with the result that th^jvicked 
man is dead and the good man has prevailed. The trouble now is 
that the good man, because he encountered evil^ has become a 
wrong-doer too, and this even if we assume that Billy Budd did 

84 On Revolution 

not lose his innocence, that he remained 'an angel of God'. It is 
at this point that 'virtue 7 in the person of Captain Vere is intro- 
duced into the conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, 
and here the tragedy begins. Virtue - which perhaps is less than 
goodness but still alone is capable 'of embodiment in lasting 
institutions* - must prevail at the expense of the good man as 
well; absolute, natural innocence, because it can only act 
violently, is 'at war with the peace of the world and the true wel- 
fare of mankind', so that virtue finally interferes not to prevent 
the crime of j^vilbut to punish the violence of absolute innocence. 
Claggart was 'struck by an angel of God ! Yet the angel must 
hang ! * The tragedy is that the law is made for men, and neither 
for angels nor for devils. Laws and all 'lasting institutions' break 
down not only under the onslaught of elemental evil but under 
the impact of absolute innocence as well. The law, moving be- 
tween crime and virtue, cannot recognize what is beyond it, and 
while it has no punishment to mete out to elemental evil, it 
cannot but punish elemental goodness even if the virtuousman, 
Captain Vere, recognizes that only the violence of this goodness 
is adequate to the depraved power ofeyjl. The absolute - and to 
Melville an absolute was incorporated in the Rights of Man - 
spells doom to everyone when it is introduced into the political 

We noted before that the passion of compassion was singularly 
absent from the minds and hearts of the men who made the 
American Revolution. Who would doubt that John Adams was 
right when he wrote: "The envy and rancor of the multitude 
against the rich is universal and restrained only by fear or neces- 
sity. A beggar can never comprehend the reason why another 
should ride in a coach while he has no bread'; 28 and still no one 
familiar with misery can fail to be shocked by the peculiar cold- 
ness and indifferent 'objectivity' of his judgement. Because he 
was an American, Melville knew better how to talk back to the 
theoretical proposition of the men of the French Revolution - 
that man is good by nature - than how to take into account the 
crucial passionate concern which lay behind their theories, the 
concern with the suffering multitude. Envy in Billy Budd, 
characteristically, is not envy of the poor for the rich but of 

The Social Question 85 

'depraved nature' for natural integrity - it is Claggart who is 
envious of Billy Budd - and compassion is not the suffering of 
the one who is spared with the man who is stricken in the flesh; 
on the contrary, it is Billy Budd, the victim, who feels com- 
passion for Captain Vere, for the man who sends him to his 

The classical story of the other, non-theoretical side of the 
French Revolution, the story of the motivation behind the words 
and deeds of its main actors, is The Grand Inquisitor', in which 
Dostoevski contrasts the mute compassion of Jesus with the 
eloquent pity of the Inquisitor. For compassion, to be stricken 
with the suffering of someone else as though it were contagious, 
and pity, to be sorry without being touched in the flesh, are not 
only not the same, they may not even be related. Compassion, by 
its very nature, cannot be touched off by the sufferings of a whole 
class or a people, or, least of all, mankind as a whole. It cannot 
reach out farther than what is suffered by one person and still 
remain what it is supposed to be, co-suffering. Its strength hinges 
on the strength of passion itself, which, in contrast to reason, can 
comprehend only the particular, but has no notion of the general 
and no capacity for generalization. The sin of the Grand In- 
quisitor was that he, like Robespierre, was 'attracted toward 
les hommes jaibles\ not only because such attraction was in- 
distinguishable from lust for power, but also because he had 
depersonalized the sufferers, lumped them together into an 
aggregate - the people toujour* malheureux, the suffering 
masses, et cetera. To, Dostoevski, the sign of Jesus' s divinity 
clearlyjwas^ his ability to have compassion .with, all _men in their 
singularity, that is, without lumping them togedier_ into some 
sucTTentity as one. suffering mankind. The greatness of the story, 
apart from its theological implications, lies in that we are made 
to feel how false the idealistic, high-flown phrases of the most 
exquisite pity sound the moment they are confronted with 

Closely connected with this inability to generalize is the 
curious muteness or, at least, awkwardness with words that, in 
contrast to the eloquence of virtue, is the sign of goodness, as it 
is the sign of compassion in contrast to the loquacity of pity. 

86 On Revolution 

Passion and compassion are not speechless, but their language 
consists in gestures and expressions of countenance rather than 
in words. It is because he listens to the Grand Inquisitor's speech 
with compassion, and not for lack of arguments, that Jesus 
remains silent, struck, as it were, by the suffering which lay 
behind the easy flow of his opponent's great monologue. The 
intensity of this listening transforms the monologue into a dia- 
logue, but it can be ended only by a gesture, the gesture of the 
kiss, not by words. It is upon the same note of compassion - 
this time the compassion of the doomed man with the com- 
passionate suffering felt for him by the man who doomed him - 
that Billy Budd ends his life, and, by the same token, the argu- 
ment over the Captain's sentence, and his 'God bless Captain 
Vere!' is certainly closer to a gesture than to a speech. Com- 
p^ssion^Jn^ this^ respert not unlike love,., abolishes the distance, 
the in-between which always exists in human intercourse, and if 
virtue will always be ready to assert that it is better to suffer 
wrong than to do wrong, compassion will transcend this by 
stating in complete and even naive sincerity that it is easier to 
suffer than to see others suffer. 

Because compassion abolishes the distance, the worldly space 
between men where political matters, the whole realm of human 
affairs, are located, it remains, politically speaking, irrelevant. ancT 
without consequence. In the words of Melville, it is incapable 
of establishing 'lasting institutions'. Jesus's silence in 'The Grand 
Inquisitor' and Billy Budd's stammer indicate the same, namely 
their incapacity (or unwillingness) for all kinds of predicative or 
argumentative speech, in which someone talks to somebody 
about something that is of interest to both because it inter-est, it 
is between them. Such talkative and argumentative interest in 
the world is entirely alien to compassion, which is directed solely, 
and with passionate intensity, towards suffering man himself; 
compassion speaks only to the extent that it has to reply directly 
to the sheer expressionist sound and gestures through which 
suffering becomes audible and visible in the world. As a rule, it 
is not compassion which sets out to change worldly conditions in 
order to ease human suffering, but if it does, it will shun the 
drawn-out wearisome processes of persuasion, negotiation, and 

The Social Question 87 

compromise, which are the processes of law and politics, 
and lend its voice to the suffering itself, which must claim for 
swift and direct action, that is, for action with the means of 

Here again, the relatedness of the phenomena of goodness and 
compassion is manifest. For goodness that is beyond virtue, and 
hence beyond temptation, ignorant of the argumentative reason- 
ing by which man fends off temptations and, by this very pro- 
cess, comes to know the ways, of wickedness, is also incapable of 
learning the arts of persuading and arguing. The great maxim 
of all civilized legal systems, that the burden of proof must 
always rest with the accuser, sprang from the insight that only 
guilt can be irrefutably proved. Innocence, on the contrary, to 
the extent that it is more than 'not guilty', cannot be proved but 
must be accepted on faith, whereby the trouble is that this faith 
cannot be supported by the given word, which can be a lie. Billy 
Budd could have ; spoken with the tongues of angels, and yet 
would not have been able to refute the accusations of the 'ele- 
ment al evi l 1 that confronted him; he could only raise his hand 
and strike the accuser dead. 

Clearly, Melville reversed the primordial legendary crime, 
Cain slew Abel, which has played such an enormous role in our 
tradition of political thought, but this reversal was not arbitrary; 
it followed from the reversal the men of the French Revolution 
had made of the proposition of original sin, which they had re- 
placed by the proposition of original goodness. Melville states the 
guiding question of his story himself in the Preface : How was it 
possible that after 'the rectification of the Old World's hereditary 
wrongs . . . straightway the Revolution itself became a wrong- 
doer, one more oppressive than the Kings?' He found the answer 
- surprisingly enough if one considers the common equations of 
goodness with meekness and weakness - in that goodness is 
strong, stronger perhaps even than wickedness , but that it shares 
with ^elem ental evil ' the elementary violence inherent in all 
strength and detrimental to all forms of political organization. 
It is as though he said: Let us suppose that from now on the 
foundation stone of our political life will be that Abel slew Cain. 
Don't you see that from this deed of violence the same chain of 

88 On Revolution 

wrongdoing will follow, only that now mankind will not even 
have the consolation that the violence it must call crime is 
indeed characteristic of jy^Lmen only? 

It is more than doubtful that Rousseau discovered compassion 
out of suffering with others, and it is more than probable that in 
this, as in nearly all other respects, he was guided by his rebellion 
against high society, especially against its glaring indifference 
towards the suffering of those who surrounded it. He had sum- 
moned up the resources of the heart against the indifference of 
the salon and against the 'heartlessness' of reason, both of which 
will say 'at the sight of the misfortunes of others : Perish if you 
wish, I am secure'. 29 Yet while the plight of others aroused his 
heart, he became involved in his heart rather than in the suffer- 
ings of others, and he was enchanted with its moods and caprices 
as they disclosed themselves in the sweet delight of intimacy 
which Rousseau was one of the first to discover and which from 
then on began playing its important role in the formation of 
modern sensibility. In this sphere of intimacy, compassion be- 
came talkative, as it were, since it came to serve, together with 
the passions and with suffering, as stimulus for the vitality of 
the newly discovered range of emotions. Compassion, in other 
words, was discovered and understood as an emotion or a senti- 
ment, and the sentiment which corresponds to the passion of 
compassion is, of course, pity. 

Pity may be the perversion of compassion, but its alternative 
is solidarity. It is out of pity that men are 'attracted toward les 
hommes faibles\ but it is out of solidarity that they establish 
deliberately and, as it were, dispassionately a community of 
interest with the oppressed and exploited. The common interest 
would then be 'the grandeur of man*, or 'the honour of the 
human race', or the dignity of man. For solidarity, because it 
partakes of reason, and hence of generality, is able to comprehend 
a multitude conceptually, not only the multitude of a class or a 
nation or a people, but eventually all mankind. But this solid- 

The Social Question 89 

arity, though it may be aroused by suffering, is not guided by 
it, and it comprehends the strong and the rich no less than the 
weak and the poor; compared with the sentiment of pity, it may 
appear cold and abstract, for it remains committed to 'ideas' - 
to greatness, or honour, or dignity - rather than to any 'love' of 
men. Pity, because it is not stricken in the flesh and keeps its 
sentimental distance, can succeed where compassion always will 
fail; it can reach out to the multitude and therefore, like 
solidarity, enter the market-place. But pity, in contrast to solid- 
arity, does not look upon both fortune and misfortune, the 
strong and the weak, with an equal eye; without the presence of 
misfortune, pity could not exist, and it therefore has just as much 
vested interest in the existence of the unhappy as thirst for 
power has a vested interest in the existence of the weak. More- 
over, by virtue of being a sentiment, pity can be enjoyed for its 
own sake, and this will almost automatically lead to a glorifica- 
tion of its cause, which is the suffering of others. Terminologi- 
cally speaking, s olidari ty is a principlejhaLcan inspire and guide 
action, compassion is one of the passions, and pity is. a, sentiment. 
Robespierre^yglorification of the poor, at any rate, his praise of 
suffering as the spring of virtue were sentimental in the strict 
sense of the word, and as such dangerous enough, even if they 
were not, as we are inclined to suspect, a mere pretext for lust 
for power. 

Pity, taken as the spring of virtue, has proved to possess a 
greater capacity for cruelty than cruelty itself. c Par pitie, par 
amour pour Thumanite, soyez inhumains !' - these words, taken 
almost at random from a petition of one of the sections of the 
Parisian Commune to the National Convention, are neither 
accidental nor extreme; they are the authentic language of pity. 
They are followed by a crude but nevertheless precise and very 
common rationalization of pity's cruelty : 'Thus, the clever and 
helpful surgeon with his cruel and benevolent, knife cuts off the 
gangrened limb in order to save the body of the sick man.' 30 
Moreover, sentiments, as distinguished from passion and prin- 
ciple, are boundless, and even if Robespierre had been motivated 
by the passion of compassion, his compassion would have be- 
come pity when he brought it out into the open where he could 

90 On Revolution 

no longer direct it towards specific suffering and focus it on 
particular persons. What had perhaps been genuine passions 
turned into the boundlessness of an emotion that seemed to 
respond only too well to the boundless suffering of the multitude 
in their sheer overwhelming numbers. By the same token, he 
lost the capacity to establish and hold fast to rapports with per- 
sons in their singularity; the ocean of suffering around him 
and the turbulent sea of emotion within him, the latter geared 
to receive and respond to the former, drowned all specific con- 
siderations, the considerations of friendship no less than con- 
siderations of statecraft and principle. It is in these matters, 
rather than in any particular fault of character, that we must 
look for the roots of Robespierre's surprising faithlessness that 
foreshadowed the greater perfidy which was to play such a mon- 
strous role in the revolutionary tradition. Since the days of the 
French Revolution, it has been the boundlessness of their sen- 
timents that made revolutionaries so curiously insensitive to 
reality in general and to the reality of persons in particular, 
whom they felt no compunctions in sacrificing to their 'prin- 
ciples', or to the course of history, or to the cause of revolution 
as such. While this emotion-laden insensitivity to reality was 
quite conspicuous already in Rousseau's own behaviour, his 
fantastic irresponsibility and unreliability, it became a political 
factor of importance only with Robespierre, who introduced it 
into the factional strife of the Revolution. 31 

Politically speaking, one may say that the^yjl of Robespierre's 
virtue was that it did not accept any limitations. In Mon- 
tesquieu's great insight that even virtue must have its limits, he 
would have seen no more than the dictum of a cold heart. 
Thanks to the doubtful wisdom of hindsight, we can be aware 
of Montesquieu's greater wisdom of foresight and recall how 
Robespierre's pity-inspired virtue, from the beginning of his 
rule, played havoc with justice and made light of laws. 82 
Measured against the immense sufferings of the immense maj- 
ority of the people, the impartiality of justice and law, the 
application of the same rules to those who sleep in palaces and 
those who sleep under the bridges of Paris, was like a mockery. 
Since the revolution had opened the gates of the political realm 

The Social Question 91 

to the poor, this realm had indeed become 'social'. It was over- 
whelmed by the cares and worries which actually belonged in 
the sphere of the household and which, even if they were per- 
mitted to enter the public realm, could not be solved by political 
means, since they were matters of administration, to be put 
into the hands of experts, rather than issues which could be 
settled by the twofold process of decision. and persuasion. It is 
true that social and economic matters had intruded into the 
public realm before the revolutions of the late eighteenth cen- 
tury, and the transformation of government into administration, 
the replacement of personal rule by bureaucratic measures, 
even the attending transmutation of laws into decrees, had been 
one of the outstanding characteristics of absolutism. But with 
the downfall of political and legal authority and the rise of 
revolution, it was people rather -than general economic and 
financial problems that were at stake, and they did not merely 
intrude into but burst upon the political domain. Their need 
was violent, and, as it werej prepolitical; it seemed that only 
violence could be strong and swift enough to help them. 

By the same token, the whole question of politics, including 
the then gravest problem, the problem of form of government, 
became a matter of foreign affairs. Just as Louis XVI had been 
beheaded as a traitor rather than as a tyrant, so the whole issue 
of monarchy versus republic turned into an affair of armed 
foreign aggression against the French nation. This is the same 
decisive shift, occurring at the turning point of the Revolution, 
which we identified earlier as the shift from forms of govern- 
ment to 'the natural goodness of a class', or from the republic 
to the people. Historically it was at this point that the Revolu- 
tion disintegrated into war, into civil war within and foreign 
wars without, and with it the newly won but never duly consti- 
tuted power of the people disintegrated into a chaos of violence. 
If the question of the new form of government was to be de- 
cided on the battlefield, then it was violence, and not power, that 
was to turn the scale. If liberation from poverty and the happi- 
ness of the people were the true and exclusive aims of the 
Revolution, then Saint-Just's youthfully blasphemous witticism, 
'Nothing resembles virtue so much as a great crime', was no 

92 On Revolution 

more than an everyday observation, for then it followed indeed 
that all must be 'permitted to those who act in the revolutionary 
direction'. 33 

It would be difficult to find, in the whole body of revolution- 
ary oratory, a sentence that pointed with greater precision to the 
issues about which the founders and the liberators, the men of 
the American Revolution and the men in France, parted com- 
pany. The direction of the American Revolution remained com- 
mitted to the foundation of freedom and the establishment of 
lasting institutions, and to those who acted in this direction 
nothing was permitted that would have been outside the range 
of civil law. The direction of the French Revolution was de- 
flected almost from its beginning from this course of founda- 
tion through the immediacy of suffering; it was determined by 
the exigencies of liberation not from tyranny but from necessity, 
and it was actuated by the limitless immensity of both the 
people's misery and the pity this misery inspired. The lawless- 
ness of the 'all is permitted' sprang here still from the senti- 
ments of the heart whose very boundlessness helped in the 
unleashing of a stream of boundless violence. 

Not that the men of the American Revolution could have been 
ignorant of the great force which violence, the purposeful viola- 
tion of all laws of civil society, could release. On the contrary, 
the fact that the horror and repulsion at the news of the reign 
of terror in France were clearly greater and more unanimous in 
the United States than in Europe can best be explained by the 
greater familiarity with violence and lawlessness in a colonial 
country. The first paths through the 'unstoried wilderness* of 
the continent had been opened then, as they were to be 
opened for a hundred more years, 'in general by the most vicious 
elements', as though 'the first steps [could not be] trod, ..» 
[the] first trees [not be] felled' without 'shocking violations' 
and 'sudden devastations'. 3 * But although those who, for what- 
ever reasons, rushed out of society into the wilderness acted as 
if all was permitted to them who had left the range of enforce- 
able law, neither they themselves nor those who watched them, 
and not even those who admired them, ever thought that a 
new law and a new world could spring from such conduct. 

The Social Question 03 

However criminal and even beastly the deeds might have been 
that helped colonize the American continent, they remained 
acts of single men, and if they gave cause for generalization 
and reflection, these reflections were perhaps upon some beastly 
potentialities inherent in man's nature, but hardly upon the 
political behaviour of organized groups, and certainly not upon 
a historical necessity that could progress only via crimes and 

To be sure, the men living on the American frontier also 
belonged to the people for whom the new body politic was 
devised and constituted, but neither they nor those who were 
populating the settled regions ever became a singular to the 
founders. The word 'people' retained for them the meaning of 
manyness, of the endless variety of a multitude whose majesty 
resided in its very plurality. Opposition to public opinion, 
namely to the potential unanimity of all, was therefore one of 
the many things upon which the men of the American Revolu- 
tion were in complete agreement; they knew that the public 
realm in a republic was constituted by an exchange of opinion 
between equals, and that this realm would simply disappear 
the very moment an exchange became superfluous because all 
equals happened to be of the same opinion. They never referred 
to public opinion in their argument, as Robespierre and the men 
of the French Revolution invariably did to add force to their 
own opinions; in their eyes, the rule of public opinion was a 
form of tyranny. To such an extent indeed was the American 
concept of people identified with a multitude of voices and 
interests that Jefferson could establish it as a principle 'to make 
us one nation as to foreign concerns, and keep us distinct in 
domestic ones', 35 just as Madison could assert that their regula- 
tion 'forms the principal task of . . . legislation, and involves 
the spirit of party and faction in the operations of the govern- 
ment'. The positive accent here on faction is noteworthy, since 
it stands in flagrant contradiction to classical tradition, to which 
the Founding Fathers otherwise paid the closest attention. 
Madison must have been conscious of his deviation on so im- 
portant a point, and he was explicit in stating its cause, which 
was his insight into the nature of human reason rather than any 

94 On Revolution 

reflection upon the diversity of conflicting interests in society. 
According to him, party and faction in government correspond 
to the many voices and differences in opinion which must con- 
tinue 'as long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is 
at liberty to exercise it\ 36 

The fact of the matter was, of course, that the kind of multi- 
tude which the founders of the American republic first repre- 
sented and then constituted politically, if it existed at all in 
Europe, certainly ceased to exist as soon as one approached the 
lower strata of the population. The malheureux whom the 
French Revolution had brought out of the darkness of their 
misery were a multitude only in the mere numerical sense. 
Rousseau's image of a 'multitude . . . united in one body* and 
driven by one will was an exact description of what they actu- 
ally were, for what urged them on was the quest for bread, 
and the cry for bread will always be uttered with one voice. 
In so far as we all need bread, we are indeed all the same, 
and may as well unite into one body. It is by no means merely 
a matter of misguided theory that the French concept of le 
peuple has carried, from its beginning, the connotation of a 
multiheaded monster, a mass that moves as one body and acts as 
though possessed by one will; and if this notion has spread to 
the four corners of the earth, it is not because of any influence 
of abstract ideas but because of its obvious plausibility under 
conditions of abject poverty. The political trouble which misery 
of the people holds in store is that manyness can in fact assume 
the guise of oneness, that suffering indeed breeds moods and 
emotions and attitudes that resemble solidarity to the point of 
confusion, and that - last, not least - pity for the many is easily 
confounded with compassion for one person when the 'com- 
passionate zeal' (le zele compatissant) can fasten upon an ob- 
ject whose oneness seems to fulfil the prerequisites of compas- 
sion, while its immensity, at the same time, corresponds to the 
boundlessness of sheer emotion. Robespierre once compared the 
nation to the ocean; it was indeed the ocean of misery and the 
ocean-like sentiments it aroused that combined to drown the 
foundations of freedom. 

The superior wisdom of the American founders in theory 

The Social Question 95 

and practice is conspicuous and impressive enough, and yet has 
never carried with it sufficient persuasiveness and plausibility to 
prevail in the tradition of revolution. It is as though the Ameri- 
can Revolution was achieved in a kind of ivory tower into 
which the fearful spectacle of human misery, the haunting 
voices of abject poverty, never penetrated. And this was, and 
remained for a long time, the spectacle and the voice not of 
humanity but of humankind. Since there were no sufferings 
around them that could have aroused their passions, no over- 
whelmingly urgent needs that would have tempted them to 
submit to necessity, no pity to lead them astray from reason, 
the men of the American Revolution remained men of action 
from beginning to end, from the Declaration of Independence 
to the framing of the Constitution. Their sound realism was 
never put to the test of compassion, their common sense was 
never exposed to the absurd hope that man, whom Christianity 
had held to be sinful and corrupt in his nature, might still be 
revealed to be an angel. Since passion had never tempted them 
in its noblest form as compassion, they found it easy to think 
of passion in terms of desire and to banish from it any connota- 
tion of its original meaning, which is rcaGetv, to suffer and to 
endure. This lack of experience gives their theories, even if 
they are sound, an air of lightheartedness, a certain weightless- 
ness, which may well put into jeopardy their durability. For, 
humanly speaking, it is endurance which enables man to create 
durability and continuity. Their thought did not carry them 
any further than to the point of understanding government in 
the image of individual reason and construing the rule of 
government over the governed according to the age-old model of 
the rule of reason over the passions. To bring the irrationality' 
of desires and emotions under the control of rationality was, of 
course, a thought dear to the Enlightenment, and as such was 
quickly found wanting in many respects, especially in its facile 
and superficial equation of thought with reason and of reason 
with rationality. 

There is, however, another side to this matter. Whatever the 
passions and the emotions may be, and whatever their true 
connection with thought and reason, they certainly are located 

g$ On Revolution 

in the human heart. And not only is the human heart a place 
of darkness which, with certainty, no human eye can pen- 
etrate; the qualities of the heart need darkness and protection 
against the light of the public to grow and to remain what 
they are meant to be, innermost motives which are not for 
public, display. However deeply heartfelt a motive may be, once 
it is brought out and exposed for public inspection it becomes an 
object of suspicion rather than insight; when the light of the 
public falls upon it, it appears and even shines, but, unlike 
deeds and words which are meant to appear, whose very exis- 
tence hinges on appearance, the motives behind such deeds and 
words are destroyed in their essence through appearance; when 
they appear they become 'mere appearances' behind which again 
other, ulterior motives may lurk, such as hypocrisy and deceit. 
The same sad logic of the human heart, which has almost auto- 
matically caused modern 'motivational research' to develop into 
an eerie sort of filing cabinet for human vices, into a veritable 
science of misanthropy, made Robespierre and his followers, 
once they had equated virtue with the qualities of the heart, see 
intrigue and calumny, treachery and hypocrisy everywhere. The 
fateful mood of suspicion, so glaringly omnipresent through the 
French Revolution even before a Law of Suspects spelled out 
its frightful implications, and so conspicuously absent from even 
the most bitter disagreements between the men of the American 
Revolution, arose directly out of this misplaced emphasis on the 
heart as the source of political virtue, on le cosur, une dme droite, 
un caracthre moral. 

The heart, moreover - as the great French moralists from 
Montaigne to Pascal knew well enough even before the great 
psychologists of the nineteenth century, Kierkegaard, Dostoev- 
ski, Nietzsche - keeps its resources alive through a constant 
struggle that goes on in its darkness and because of its darkness. 
When we say that nobody but God can see (and, perhaps, can 
bear to see) the nakedness of a human heart, 'nobody' includes 
one's own self - if only because our sense of unequivocal reality 
is so bound up with the presence of others that we can never be 
sure of anything that only we ourselves know and no one else. 
The consequence of this hiddenness is that our entire psycho- 

The Social Question 97 

logical life, the process of moods in our souls, is cursed with a 
suspicion we constantly feel we must raise against ourselves, 
against our innermost motives. Robespierre's insane lack of trust 
in others, even in his close friends, sprang ultimately from his 
not so insane but quite normal suspicion of himself. Since his 
very credo forced him to play the 'incorruptible* in public every 
day and to display his virtue, to open his heart as he understood 
it, at least once a week, how. could he be sure that he was not the 
one thing he probably feared most in his life, a hypocrite? The 
heart knows many such intimate struggles, and it knows too 
that what was straight when it was hidden must appear crooked 
when it is displayed. It knows how to deal with these prob- 
lems of darkness according to its own 'logic', although it has 
no solution for them, since a solution demands light, and it is 
precisely the light of the world that distorts the life of the heart. 
The truth of Rousseau's dme dechiree, apart from its function in 
the formation of the volonte genirale, is that the heart begins 
to beat properly only when it has been broken or is being torn 
in conflict, but this is a truth which cannot prevail outside the 
life of the soul and within the realm of human affairs. 

Robespierre carried the conflicts of the soul, Rousseau's dme 
dichirie, into politics, where they became murderous because 
they were insoluble. 'The hunt for hypocrites is boundless and 
can produce nothing but demoralization.' 37 If, in the words of 
Robespierre, patriotism was a thing of the heart', then the 
reign of virtue was bound to be at worst the rule of hypocrisy, 
and at best the never-ending fight to ferret out the hypocrites, a 
fight which could only end in defeat because of the simple fact 
that it was impossible to distinguish between true and false 
patriots. When his heartfelt patriotism or his ever-suspicious 
virtue were displayed in public, they were no longer principles 
upon which to act or motives by which to be inspired; they 
had degenerated into mere appearances and had become part of 
a show in which TartufTe was bound to play the principal part. 
It was as though the Cartesian doubt - je doute done je suis - 
had become the principle of the political realm, and the reason 
was that Robespierre had performed the same introversion upon 
the deeds of action that Descartes had performed upon the 

98 On Revolution 

articulations of thought. To be sure, every deed has its motives 
as it has its goal and its principle; but the act itself, though it 
proclaims its goal and makes manifest its principle, does not 
reveal the innermost motivation of the agent. His motives re- 
main dark, they do not shine but are hidden not only from 
others but, most of the time, from himself, from his self-inspec- 
tion, as well. Hence, the search for motives, the demand that 
everybody display in public his innermost motivation, since it 
actually demands the impossible, transforms all actors into 
hypocrites; the moment the display of motives begins, hypocrisy 
begins to poison all human relations. The effort, moreover, to 
drag the dark and the hidden into the light of day can only 
result in an open and blatant manifestation of those acts whose 
very nature makes them seek the protection of darkness; it is, 
unfortunately, in the essence of these things that every effort to 
make goodness manifest in public ends with the appearance of 
crime and criminality on the political scene. In politics, mo re 
^ajLanywhere else, wejiaye no possibility of distinguishing, be- 
tween being and appearance. In the realm of human affairs, 
being and appearance are indeed one and the same. 

The momentous role that hypocrisy and the passion for its 
unmasking came to play in the later stages of the French 
Revolution, though it may never cease to astound the historian, 
is a matter of historical record. The revolution, before it pro- 
ceeded to devour its own children, had unmasked them, and 
French historiography, in more than a hundred and fifty years, 
has reproduced and documented all these exposures until no one 
is left among the chief actors who does not stand accused, or 
at least suspected, of corruption, duplicity, and mendacity. No 
matter how much we may owe to the historians' learned con- 
troversies and passionate rhetorics, from Michelct and Louis 
Blanc to Aulard and Mathiez, if they did not fall under the 
spell of historical necessity, they wrote as though they were 
still hunting for hypocrites; in the words of Michelet, *at [their] 

The Social Question 99. 

touch the hollow idols were shattered and exposed, the carrion 
kings appeared, unsheetcd and unmasked.' 38 They were still 
rngaged in the war which Robespierre's virtue had declared 
upon hypocrisy, just as the French people even today re- 
member so well the treacherous cabals of those who once ruled 
them that they will respond to every defeat in war or peace with 
nous sommes trahis. But the relevance of these experiences has 
by no means remained restricted to the national history of the 
French people. We need only remember how, until very re- 
cently, the historiography of the American Revolution, under 
the towering influence of Charles Beard's Economic Interpreta- 
tion of the Constitution of the United States (1913), was ob- 
sessed by the unmasking of the Founding Fathers and by the 
hunt for ulterior motives in the making of the Constitution. 
This effort was all the more significant as there were hardly 
any facts to back up the foregone conclusions. 39 It was a matter 
of sheer 'history of ideas 1 - as though America's scholars and 
intellectuals, when in the beginning of this century she emerged 
from her isolation, felt they must at least repeat in ink and print 
what in other countries had been written with blood. 

It was the war upon hypocrisy that transformed Robespierre's 
dictatorship into the Reign of Terror, and the outstanding char- 
acteristic of thijs period was the self-purging of the rulers. The 
terror with which the Incorruptible struck must not be mis- 
taken for the Great Fear - in French both are called terreur - 
the result of the uprising of the people beginning with the fall 
of the Bastille and the women's march on Versailles, and end- 
ing with the September Massacres three years later. The Reign 
of Terror and the fear the uprising of the masses caused in the 
ruling classes were not the same. Nor can terror be blamed ex- 
clusively upon the revolutionary dictatorship, a necessary emer- 
gency measure for a country at war with practically all its neigh- 

Terror as an institutional device, consciously employed to 
accelerate the momentum of the revolution, was unknown prior 
to the Russian Revolution. No doubt the purges of the Bol- 
shevik party were originally modelled upon, and justified by 
reference to, the events that had determined the course of the 

ioo On Revolution 

French Revolution; no revolution, so it might have seemed to 
the men of the October Revolution, was complete without self- 
purges in the party that had risen to power. Even the language 
in which the hideous process was conducted bore out the simi- 
larity; it was always a question of uncovering what had been 
hidden, of unmasking the disguises, of exposing duplicity and 
mendacity. Yet the difference is marked. The eighteenth-century 
terror was still enacted in good faith, and if it became boundless 
it did so only because the hunt for hypocrites is boundless by 
nature. The purges in the Bolshevik party, prior to its rise to 
power, were motivated chiefly by ideological differences; in this 
respect the interconnection between terror and ideology was 
manifest from the very beginning. After its rise to power, and 
still under the guidance of Lenin, the party then institutional- 
ized purges as a means of checking abuses and incompetence in 
the ruling bureaucracy. These two types of purges were different 
and yet they had one thing in common; they were both guided 
by the concept of historical necessity whose course was deter- 
mined by movement and counter-movement, by revolution and 
counter-revolution, so that certain 'crimes' against the revolu- 
tion had to be detected even if there were no known criminals 
who could have committed them. The concept of 'objective 
enemies', so all-important for purges and show-trials in the 
Bolshevik world, was entirely absent from the French Revolu- 
tion, and so was the concept of historical necessity, which, as 
we have seen, did not so much spring from the experiences and 
thoughts of those who made the Revolution as it arose from the 
efforts of those who desired to understand and to come to terms 
with a chain of events they had watched as a spectacle from 
the outside. Robespierre's 'terror of virtue' was terrible enough; 
but it remained directed against a hidden enemy and a hidden 
vice. It was not directed against people who, even from the 
viewpoint of the revolutionary ruler, were innocent. It was a 
question of stripping the mask off the disguised traitor, not of 
putting the mask of the traitor on arbitrarily selected people in 
order to create the required impersonators in the bloody mas- 
querade of a dialectical movement. 
It must seem strange that hypocrisy - one of the minor vices, 

The Social Question 101 

we are inclined to think - should have been hated more than 
all the other vices taken together. Was not hypocrisy, since it 
paid its compliment to virtue, almost the vice to undo the vices, 
at least to prevent them from appearing and to shame them into 
hiding? Why should the vice that covered up vices become the 
vice of vices? Is hypocrisy then such a monster? we are tempted 
to ask (as Melville asked, 'Is envy then such a monster?'). 
Theoretically, the answers to these questions may ultimately lie 
within the range of one of the oldest metaphysical problems in 
our tradition, the problem of the relationship between being and 
appearance, whose implications and perplexities with respect to 
the political realm have been manifest and caused reflection at 
least from Socrates to Machiavelli. The core of the problem can 
be stated briefly and, for our purpose, exhaustively by recalling 
the two diametrically opposed positions which we connect with 
these two thinkers. 

Socrates, in the tradition of Greek thought, took his point of 
departure from an unquestioned belief in the truth of appear- 
ance, and taught : 'Be as you would wish to appear to others*, 
by which he means : 'Appear to yourself as you wish to appear 
to others.' Machiavelli, on the contrary, and in the tradition 
of Christian thought, took for granted the existence of a trans- 
cendent Being behind and beyond the world of appearances, and 
therefore taught: 'Appear as you may wish to be*, by which 
he meant : 'Never mind how you are, this is of no relevance in 
the world and in politics, where only appearances, not "true" 
being, count; if you can manage to appear to others as you 
would wish to be, that is all that can possibly be required by the 
judges of this world.* His advice sounds to our ears like the 
counsel of hypocrisy, and the hypocrisy on which Robespierre 
declared his futile and pernicious war indeed involves the prob- 
lems of Machiavelli's teaching. Robespierre was modern enough 
to go hunting for truth, though he did not yet believe, as some 
of his late disciples did, that he could fabricate it. He no longer 
thought, as Machiavelli did, that truth appeared of its own ac- 
cord either in this world or in a world to come. And without a 
faith in the revelatory capacity of truth, lying and make-believe 
in all their forms change their character; they had not been 

102 On Revolution 

considered crimes in antiquity unless they involved wilful 
deception and bearing false witness. 

Politically, both Socrates and Machiavelli were disturbed not 
by lying but by the problem of the hidden crime, that is, by the 
possibility of a criminal act witnessed by nobody and remaining 
unknown to all but its agent. In Plato's early Socratic dialogues, 
where this question forms a recurring topic of discussion, it is 
always carefully added that the problem consists in an action 
'unknown to men and gods'. The addition is crucial, because 
in this form the question could not exist for Machiavelli, whose 
whole so-called moral teachings presuppose the existence of a 
God who knows all and eventually will judge everybody. For 
Socrates, on the contrary, it was an authentic problem whether 
something that 'appeared' to no one except the agent did exist 
at all. The Socratic solution consisted in the extraordinary dis- 
covery that the agent and the onlooker, the one who does and 
the one to whom the deed must appear in order to become real 
- the latter, in Greek terms, is the one who can say 8oiceI uoi, 
it appears to me, and then can form his 56£a, his opinion, 
accordingly - were contained in the selfsame person. The iden- 
tity of this person, in contrast to the identity of the modern 
individual, was formed not by oneness but by a constant hither- 
and-thither of two-in-one; and this movement found its highest 
form and purest actuality in the dialogue of thought which 
Socrates did not equate with logical operations such as in- 
duction, deduction, conclusion, for which no more than one 
'operator' is required, but with that form of speech which is 
carried out between me and myself. What concerns us here is 
that the Socratic agent, because he was capable of thought, car- 
ried within himself a witness from whom he could not escape; 
wherever he went and whatever he did, he had his audience, 
which, like any other audience, would automatically constitute 
itself into a court of justice, that is, into that tribunal which 
later ages have called conscience. Socrates' solution to the prob- 
lem of the hidden crime was that there is nothing, done by men, 
which can remain 'unknown to men and gods'. 

But before we proceed we must note that, in the Socratic 
frame of reference, there exists hardly any possibility of becom- 

The Social Question 103 

ing aware of the phenomenon of hypocrisy. To be sure, the 
polis, and the whole political realm, was a man-made space of 
appearances where human deeds and words were exposed to 
the public that testified to their reality and judged their worthi- 
ness. In this sphere, treachery and deceit and lying were possible, 
as though men, instead of Appearing' and exposing themselves, 
created phantoms and apparitions with which to fool others; 
these self-made illusions only covered up the true phenomena 
(the true appearances or (paivousva), just as an optical illusion 
might spread over the object, as it were, and prevent it from 
appearing. Yet hypocrisy is not deceit, and the duplicity of the 
hypocrite is different from the duplicity of the liar and the cheat. 
The hypocrite, as the word indicates (it means in Greek 'play- 
actor'), when he falsely pretends to virtue plays a role as con- 
sistently as the actor in the play who also must identify himself 
with his role for the purpose of play-acting; there is no alter 
ego before whom he might appear in his true shape, at least not 
as long as he remains in the act. His duplicity, therefore, boom- 
erangs back upon himself, and he is no less a victim of his 
mendacity than those whom he set out to deceive. Psychologic- 
ally speaking, one may say that the hypocrite is too ambitious; 
not only does he want to appear virtuous before others, he wants 
to convince himself. By the same token, he eliminates from the 
world, which he has populated with illusions and lying phan- 
toms, the only core of integrity from which true appearance 
could arise again, his own incorruptible self. For while probably 
no living man, in his capacity as an agent, can claim not only to 
be uncorrupted but to be incorruptible, the same may not be 
true with respect to this other watchful and testifying self before 
whose eyes not our motives and the darkness of our hearts but, 
at least, what we do and say must appear. As witnesses not of 
our intentions but of our conduct, we can be true or false, and 
the hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against him- 
self. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the 
vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover 
of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it 
is true, confront us with the perplexity o£ radical eyil; but only 
the hypocrite is really rotten to the core. 

104 On Revolution 

We may now understand why even Machiavelli's counsel, 
'Appear as you may wish to be', has little if any bearing upon 
the problem of hypocrisy. Machiavelli knew corruption well 
enough, especially the corruption of the Church, on which he 
tended to blame the corruption of the people in Italy. But this 
corruption he saw in the role the Church had assumed in 
worldly, secular affairs, that is, in the domain of appearances, 
whose rules were incompatible with the teachings of Christian- 
ity. For Machiavelli, the one-who-is and the one-who-appears 
remain separated, albeit not in the Socratic sense of the two- 
in-one of conscience and consciousness, but in the sense that the 
one-who-is can appear in his true being only before God; if he 
tries to appear before men in the sphere of worldly appearances, 
he has already corrupted his being. If, on the scene which is the 
world, he appears in the disguise of virtue, he is no hypocrite 
and does not corrupt the world, because his integrity remains 
safe before the watchful eye of an omnipresent God, while the 
virtues he displays have their meaningfulness not in hiding but 
only in being displayed in public. No matter how God might 
judge him, his virtues will have improved the world while his 
vices remain hidden, and he will have known how to hide them 
not because of any pretence to virtue but because he felt they 
were not fit to be seen. 

Hypocrisy is the vice through which corruption becomes 
manifest. Its inherent duplicity, to shine with something that 
is not, had shed its glittering specious light upon French society 
ever since the kings of France had decided to assemble the 
nobles of the kingdom at their court in order to engage and 
entertain and corrupt them by a most elaborate play of follies 
and intrigues, of vanities and humiliations and plain indecency. 
Whatever we may wish to know about these origins of modern 
society, of the high society of the eighteenth century, of genteel 
society in the nineteenth, and, finally, mass society in our own 
century, is written large in the chronicle of the Court of France 
with its 'majestic hypocrisy' (Lord Acton) and reported only too 
faithfully in the Memoirs of Saint-Simon, whereas the 'eternal* 
and quintessential wisdom of this kind of worldliness has sur- 
vived in the maxims of La Rochefoucauld, which to this day are 

The Social Question 105 

unsurpassed. There, indeed, gratitude was 'like business credit', 
promises were made 'to the extent that [men] hoped and kept 
to the extent that they feared', 40 each story was an intrigue and 
every purpose became a cabal. Robespierre knew what he was 
talking about when he spoke of 'vices surrounded with riches', 
or exclaimed - still in the style of the earlier French narrators 
of the customs and mores of society whom we call the moralists 
- 'La reine du monde c'est l'intrigue P 

The Reign of Terror, we should remember, followed upon 
the period when all political developments had fallen under 
the influence of Louis XVI's ill-fated cabals and intrigues. The 
violence of terror, at least to a certain extent, was the reaction 
to a series of broken oaths and unkept promises that were the 
perfect political equivalent of the customary intrigues of Court 
society, except that these wilfully corrupted manners, which 
Louis XIV still knew how to keep apart from the style in 
which he conducted affairs of state, had by now reached the 
monarch as well. Promises and oaths were nothing but a rather 
awkwardly construed frontage with which to cover up, and win 
time for, an even more inept intrigue contrived towards the 
breaking of all promises and all oaths. And though in this in- 
stance the king promised to the extent that he feared, and broke 
his promises to the extent that he hoped, one cannot but marvel 
at the precise appositeness of La Rochefoucauld's aphorism. The 
widespread opinion that the most successful modes of political 
action are intrigue, falsehood, and machination, if they are not 
outright violence, goes back to these experiences, and it is there- 
fore no accident that we find this sort of Realpoliti\ today 
chiefly among those who rose to statesmanship out of the 
revolutionary tradition. Wherever society was permitted to in- 
vade, to overgrow, and eventually to absorb the political realm, 
it imposed its own mores and 'moral' standards, the intrigues 
and perfidies of high society, to which the lower strata re- 
sponded by violence and brutality. 

War upon hypocrisy was war declared upon society as the 
eighteenth century knew it, and this meant first of all war upon 
the Court at Versailles as the centre of French society. Looked 
at from without, from the viewpoint of misery and wretched- 

106 On Revolution 

ness, it was characterized by heartlessness; but seen from within, 
and judged upon its own terms, it was the scene of corruption 
and hypocrisy. That the wretched life of the poor was con- 
fronted by the rotten life of the rich is crucial for an under- 
standing of what Rousseau and Robespierre meant when they 
asserted that men are good 'by nature' and become rotten by 
means of society, and that the low people, simply by virtue of not 
belonging to society, must always be 'just and good*. Seen from 
this viewpoint, the Revolution looked like the explosion of an 
uncorrupted and incorruptible inner core though an outward 
shell of decay and odorous decrepitude; and it is in this context 
that the current metaphor which likens the violence of revolu- 
tionary terror to the birth-pangs attending the end of an old 
and the coming-into-being of a new organism once had an 
authentic and powerful meaning. But this was not yet the meta- 
phor used by the men of the French Revolution. Their favoured 
simile was that the Revolution offered the opportunity of tear- 
ing the mask of hypocrisy off the face of French society, of ex- 
posing its rottenness, and, finally, of tearing the facade of cor- 
ruption down and of exposing behind it the unspoiled, honest 
face of the peuple. 

It is quite characteristic that, of the two similes currently used 
for descriptions and interpretations of revolutions, the organic 
metaphor has become dear to the historians as well as to the 
theorists of revolution - Marx, indeed, was very fond of the 
'birth-pangs of revolutions' - while the men who enacted the 
Revolution preferred to draw their images from the language 
of the theatre. 41 The profound meaningfulness inherent in tie 
many political metaphors derived from the theatre is perhaps 
best illustrated by the history of the Latin word persona. In its 
original meaning, it signified the mask ancient actors used to 
wear in a play. (The dramatis personae corresponded to the 
Greek t& ioO Spduatoc, TipoocoTta.) The mask as such ob- 
viously had two functions : it had to hide, or rather to replace, 
the actor's own face and countenance, but in a way that would 
make it possible for the voice to sound through. 42 At any rate, it 
was in this twofold understanding of a mask through which a 
voice sounds that the word persona became a metaphor and was 

The Social Question 1( yj 

carried from the language of the theatre into legal terminology. 
The distinction between a private individual in Rome and a 
Roman citizen was that the latter had a persona, a legal per- 
sonality, as we would say; it was as though the law had affixed 
to him the part he was expected to play on the public scene, 
with the provision, however, that his own voice would be able 
to sound through. The point was that 'it is not the natural Ego 
which enters a court of law. It is a right-and-duty-bearing per- 
. son, created by the law, which appears before the law.' 43 With- 
out his persona, there would be an individual without rights 
and duties, perhaps a 'natural man' - that is, a human being or 
homo in the original meaning of the word, indicating someone 
outside the range of the law and the body politic of the citizens, 
as for instance a slave - but certainly a politically irrelevant 

When the French Revolution unmasked the intrigues of the 
Court and proceeded to tear off the mask of its own children, it 
aimed, of course, at the mask of hypocrisy. Linguistically, the 
Greek fouojcpiTf|<;,'in its original meaning as well as in its late 
metaphorical usage, signified the actor himself, not the mask, 
the rcp6a©Jtov, he wore. In contrast, the persona, in its original 
theatrical sense, was the mask affixed to the actor's face by the 
exigencies of the play; hence, it meant metaphorically the 'per- 
son', which the law of the land can affix to individuals as well 
as to groups and corporations, and even to 'a common and con- 
tinuing purpose', as in the instance of 'the "person" which owns 
the property of an Oxford or Cambridge college [and which] 
is neither the founder, now gone, nor the body of his living 
successors'.** The point of this distinction and the appositeness 
of the metaphor lie in that the unmasking of the 'person', the 
deprivation of legal personality, would leave behind the 'natural' 
human being, while the unmasking of the hypocrite would leave 
nothing behind the mask, because the hypocrite is the actor 
himself in so far as he wears no mask. He pretends to be the 
assumed role, and when he enters the game of society it is with- 
out any play-acting whatsoever. In other words, what made the 
hypocrite so odious was that he claimed not only sincerity but 
naturalness, and what made him so dangerous outside the 


108 On Revolution 

social realm whose corruption he represented and, as it were, 
enacted, was that he instinctively could help himself to every 
'mask' in the political theatre, that he could assume every role 
among its dramatis personae, but that he would not use this 
mask, as the rules of the political game demand, as a sounding 
board for the truth but, on the contrary, as a contraption for 

However, the men of the French Revolution had no concep- 
tion of the persona, and no respect for the legal personality 
which is given and guaranteed by the body politic. When the 
predicament of mass poverty had put itself into the road of the 
Revolution that had started with the strictly political rebellion of 
the Third Estate - its claim to be admitted to and even to rule 
the political realm - ^;he men of the Revolution were no longer 
concerned with the emancipation of citizens, or with equality in 
the sense that everybody should be equally entided to his legal 
personality, to be protected by it and, at the same time, to act 
almost literally 'through' it. They believed that they had eman- 
cipated nature herself, as it were, liberated the natural man in all 
men, and given him the Rights of Man to which each was en- 
titled, not by virtue of the body politic to which he belonged but 
by virtue of being born. In other words, by the unending hunt 
for hypocrites and through the passion for unmasking society, 
they had, albeit unknowingly, torn away the mask of the 
persona as well, so that the Reign of Terror eventually spelled 
the exact opposite of true liberation and true equality; it equal- 
ized because it left all inhabitants equally without the protecting 
mask of a legal personality. 

The perplexities of the Rights of Man are manifold, and 
Burke's famous argument against them is neither obsolete nor 
'reactionary'. In distinction from the American Bills of Rights, 
upon which the Declaration of the Rights of Man was modelled, 
they were meant to spell out primary positive rights, inherent 
in man's nature, as distinguished from his political status, and 
as such they tried indeed to reduce politics to nature. The Bills 
of Rights, on the contrary, were meant to institute permanent 
restraining controls upon all political power, and hence pre- 
supposed the existence of a body politic and the functioning of 

The Social Question 109 

political power. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man, 
as the Revolution came to understand it, was meant to constitute 
the source of all political power, to establish not the control 
but the foundation-stone of the body politic. The new body 
politic was supposed to rest upon man's natural rights, upon his 
rights in so far as he is nothing but a natural being, upon 
his right to 'food, dress, and the reproduction of the species', 
that is, upon his right to the necessities of life. And these rights 
were not understood as prepolitical rights that no government 
and no political power has the right to touch and to violate, but 
as the very content as well as the ultimate end of government 
and power. The ancien regime stood accused of having deprived 
its subjects of these rights - the rights of life and nature rather 
than the rights of freedom and citizenship; 

When the malheureux appeared on the streets of Paris it must 
have seemed as if Rousseau's 'natural man' with his 'real 
wants' in his 'original state' had suddenly materialized, and as 
though the Revolution had in fact been nothing but that 
'experiment [which] would have to be made to discover' him. 45 
For the people who now appeared were not 'artificially' hidden 
behind any mask, since they stood just as much outside the 
body politic as they stood outside society. No hypocrisy dis- 
torted their faces and no legal personality protected them. Seen 
from their standpoint, the social and the political were equally 
'artificial', spurious devices with which to hide 'original men* 
either in the nakedness of their selfish interests or in the naked- 
ness of their unbearable misery. From then on, the 'real wants' 
determined the course of the Revolution, with the result - as 
Lord Acton so rightly observed - that 'in all the transactions, 
which determined the future of France, the [Constituent] 
Assembly had no share', that power 'was passing from them to 
the disciplined people of Paris, and beyond them and their com- 
manders to the men who managed the masses'.* 6 For the masses, 
once they had discovered that a constitution was not a panacea 

no On Revolution 

for poverty, turned against the Constituent Assembly as they 
had turned against the Court of Louis XVI, and they saw in the 
deliberations of the delegates no less a play of make-believe, 
hypocrisy, and bad faith, than in the cabals of the monarch. 
Of the men of the Revolution only those survived and rose to 
power who became their spokesmen and surrendered the 'arti- 
ficial', man-made laws of a not yet constituted body politic to 
the 'natural' laws which the masses obeyed, to the forces by 
which they were driven, and which indeed were the forces of 
nature herself, the force of elemental necessity. 

When this force was let loose, when everybody had become 
convinced that only naked need and interest were without hyp- 
ocrisy, the malheureux changed into the enragis, for rage is 
indeed the only form in which misfortune can become active. 
Thus, after hypocrisy had been unmasked and suffering been 
exposed, it was rage and not virtue that appeared - the rage of 
corruption unveiled on one side, the rage of misfortune on the 
other. It had been intrigue, the intrigues of the Court of France, 
that had spun the alliance of the monarchs of Europe against 
France, and it was fear and rage rather than policy that inspired 
the war against her, a war of which even Burke could demand : 
'If ever a foreign prince enters into France, he must enter it as 
into a country of assassins. The mode of civilized war will not 
be practised; nor are the French, who act on the present system, 
entitled to expect it.' One could argue that it was this threat of 
terror inherent in the revolutionary wars that 'suggested the use 
to which terror maybe put in revolutions'; 47 at any rate, it was 
answered with rare precision by those who called themselves les 
cnragSs and who avowed openly that vengeance was the inspir- 
ing principle of their actions : 'Vengeance is the only source of 
liberty, the only goddess we ought to bring sacrifices to', as 
Alexandre Rousselin, a member of Hebert's faction, put it. This 
was perhaps not the true voice of the people, but certainly 
the very real voice of those whom even Robespierre had iden- 
tified with the people. And those who heard these voices, both 
the voice of the great from whose faces the revolution had torn 
the mask of hypocrisy and 'the voice of nature', of 'original 
man' (Rousseau), represented in the raging masses of Paris, 

The Social Question hi 

must have found it hard to believe in the goodness of unmasked 
Human nature and in the infallibility of the people. 

It was the unequal contest of these rages, the rage of naked 
misfortune pitted against the rage of unmasked corruption, that 
produced the 'continuous reaction' of 'progressive violence' of 
which Robespierre spoke; together they swept away rather 
than 'achieved in a few years the work of several centuries'. 48 
For rage is not only impotent by definition, it is the mode in 
which impotence becomes active in its last stage of final despair. 
The enrageSy inside or outside the sections of the Parisian Com- 
mune, were those who refused to bear and endure their suf- 
fering any longer, without, however, being able to rid them- 
selves of it or even to alleviate it. And in the contest of 
devastation they proved to be the stronger part, because their 
rage was connected with and rose* directly out of their suffering. 
Suffering, whose strength and virtue lie in endurance, explodes 
into rage when it can no longer endure; this rage, to be sure, is 
powerless to achieve, but it carries with it the momentum of 
true suffering, whose devastating force is superior and, as it 
were, more enduring than the raging frenzy of mere frustra- 
tion. It is true that the masses of the suffering people had taken 
to the street unbidden and uninvited by those who then became 
their organizers and their spokesmen. But the suffering they ex- 
posed transformed the malheureux into the enrages only when 
'the compassionate zeal' of the revolutionaries - of Robespierre, 
probably, more than of anybody else - began to glorify this suf- 
fering, hailing the exposed misery as the best and even only 
guarantee of virtue, so that - albeit without realizing it - the 
men of the Revolution set out to emancipate the people not qua 
prospective citizens but qua malheureux. Yet, if it was a ques- 
tion of liberating the suffering masses instead of emancipating 
the people, there was no doubt that the course of the Revolution 
depended upon the release of the force inherent in suffering, 
upon the force of delirious rage. And though the rage of im- 
potence eventually sent the Revolution to its doom, it is true that 
suffering, once it is transformed into rage, can release over- 
whelming forces. The Revolution, when it turned from the 
foundation of freedom to the liberation of man from suffering, 

ii2 On Revolution 

broke down the barriers of endurance and liberated, as it 
were, the devastating forces of misfortune and misery instead. 

Human life has been stricken with poverty since times im- 
memorial, and mankind continues to labour under this curse in 
all countries outside the Western Hemisphere. No revolution 
has ever solved the 'social question' and liberated men frcm the 
predicament of want, but all revolutions, with the exception of 
the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, 49 have followed the ex- 
ample of the French Revolution and used and misused the 
mighty forces of misery and destitution in their struggle against 
tyranny or oppression. And although the whole record of past 
revolutions demonstrates beyond doubt that every attempt to 
solve the social question with political means leads into terror, 
and that it is terror which sends revolutions to their doom, it 
can hardly be denied that to avoid this fatal mistake is almost 
impossible when a revolution breaks out under conditions of 
mass poverty. What has always made it so terribly tempting to 
follow the French Revolution on its foredoomed path is not only 
the fact that liberation from necessity, because of its urgency, 
will always take precedence over the building of freedom, but 
the even more important and more dangerous fact that the 
uprising of the poor against the rich carries with it an altogether 
different and much greater momentum of force than the re- 
bellion of the oppressed against their oppressors. This raging 
force may well nigh appear irresistible because it lives from 
and is nourished by the necessity of biological life itself. (The 
rebellions of the belly are the worst*, as Francis Bacon put it, 
discussing 'discontentment' and 'poverty' as causes for sedition.) 
No doubt the women on their march to Versailles 'played the 
genuine part of mothers whose children were starving in squalid 
homes, and they thereby afforded to motives which they neither 
shared nor understood the aid of a diamond point that nothing 
could withstand*. 50 And when Saint-Just out of these experiences 
exclaimed, 'Les malheureux sont la puissance de la terre', we 
might as well hear these grand and prophetic words in their 
literal meaning. It is indeed as though the forces of the earth 
were allied in benevolent conspiracy with this uprising, whose 
end is impotence, whose principle is rage, and whose conscious 

The Social Question 113 

aim is not freedom but life and happiness. Where the break- 
down of traditional authority set the poor of the earth on the 
march, where they left the obscurity of their misfortunes and 
streamed upon the market-place, their juror seemed as irresist- 
ible as the motion of the stars, a torrent rushing forward with 
elemental force and engulfing a whole world. 

Tocqueville (in a famous passage, written decades before 
Marx and probably without knowledge of Hegel's philosophy 
of history) was the first to wonder why 'the doctrine of 
necessity ... is so attractive to those who write history in 
democratic ages'. The reason, he believed, lay in the anonymity 
of an egalitarian society, where 'the traces of individual action 
upon nations are lost', so that 'men are led to believe that . . , 
some superior force [is] ruling over them'. Suggestive as this 
theory may appear, it will be found wanting upon closer reflec- 
tion. The powerlessness of the individual in an egalitarian 
society may explain the experience of a superior force determin- 
ing his destiny; it hardly accounts for the element of motion 
inherent in the doctrine of necessity, and without it the doctrine 
would have been useless to historians. Necessity in motion, the 
'close enormous chain which girds and binds the human race* 
and can be traced back 'to the origin of the world', 51 was entirely 
absent from the range of experiences of either the American 
Revolution or American egalitarian society. Here Tocqueville 
read something into American society which he knew from the 
French . Revolution, where already Robespierre had substituted 
an irresistible and anonymous stream of violence for the free 
and deliberate actions of men, although he still believed - in 
contrast to Hegel's interpretation of the French Revolution - 
that this free-flowing stream could be directed by the strength of 
human virtue. But the image behind Robespierre's belief in the 
irresistibility of violence as well as behind Hegel's belief in the 
irresistibility of necessity - both violence and necessity being in 
motion and dragging everything and everybody into their 
streaming movements - was the familiar view of the streets of 
Paris during the Revolution, the view of the poor who came 
streaming out into the street. 

In this stream of the poor, the element of irresistibility, which 

ii4 O* Revolution 

we found so intimately connected with the original meaning of 
the word 'revolution', was embodied, and in its metaphoric 
usage it became all the more plausible as irresistibility again 
was connected with necessity - with the necessity which we 
ascribe to natural processes, not because natural science used to 
describe the processes in terms of necessary laws, but because we 
experience necessity to the extent that we find ourselves, as 
organic bodies, subject to necessary and irresistible processes. 
All rulership has its original and its most legitimate source in 
man's wish to emancipate himself from life's necessity, and men 
achieved such liberation by means of violence, by forcing others 
to bear the burden of life for them. This was the core of slavery, 
and it is only the rise of technology, and not the rise of modern 
political ideas as such, which has refuted the old and terrible 
truth that only violence and rule oyer others could make some 
men free. Nothing, we might say today, could be more obsolet e 
than to attempt to liberate manKrid^om poverty by political 
means;' nothing could be more futile and more dangerous^ For 
the violence which occurs between men who are emancipated 
from necessity is different from, less terrifying, though often not 
less cruel, than the primordial violence with which man pits 
himself against necessity, and which appeared in the full day- 
light of political, historically recorded events for the first time in 
the moden age. The result was that necessity invaded the politi- 
cal realm, the only realm where men can be truly free. 

The masses of the poor, this overwhelming majority of all 
men, whom the French Revolution called les malheureux, whom 
it transformed into les enrag6s> only to desert them and let 
them fall back into the state of les misirables, as the nineteenth 
century called them, carried with them necessity, to which they 
had been subject as long as memory reaches, together with the 
violence that had always been used to overcome necessity. Both 
together, necessity and violence, made them appear irresistible 
- la puissance de la terre* 


The Pursuit of Happiness 

Necessity and violence, violence justified and glorified be- 
cause it acts in the cause of necessity, necessity no longer either 
rebelled against in a supreme effort of liberation or accepted in 
pious resignation, but, on the contrary, faithfully worshipped as 
the great all-coercing force which surely, in the words of Rous- 
seau, will 'force men to be free' -we know how these two and 
the interplay between them have become the hallmark of suc- 
cessful revolutions in the twentieth century, and this to such 
an extent that, for the learned and the unlearned alike, they 
are now outstanding characteristics of all revolutionary events. 
And we also know to our sorrow that freedom has been better 
preserved in countries where no revolution ever broke out, no 
matter how outrageous the circumstances of the powers that be, 
and that there exist more civil liberties even in countries where 
the revolution was defeated than in those where revolutions 
have been victorious. 

On this, we need not insist here, although we shall have to 
come back to it later. Before we proceed, however, we must 
call attention to those men whom I called the men of the revolu- 
tions, as distinct from the later professional revolutionists, in 
order to catch a first glimpse of the principles which might have 
inspired and prepared them for the role they were to play. For 
no revolution, no matter how wide it may have opened the 
gates to the masses of the poor, was ever started by them, just 
as no revolution, no matter how widespread discontent and 
even conspiracy may have been in a given country, was ever the 
result of sedition. Generally speaking, we may say that no 
revolution is even possible where the authority of the body 
politic is truly intact, and this means, under modern conditions, 

n6 On Revolution 

where the armed forces can be trusted to obey the civil authori- 
ties. Revolutions always appear to succeed with amazing ease in 
their initial stage, and the reason is that the men who make 
them first only pick up the power of a regime in plain disinte- 
gration; they are the consequences but never the causes of the 
downfall of political authority. 

From this, however, we are not entitled to conclude that 
revolutions always occur where government is incapable of com- 
manding authority and the respect that goes with it. On the 
contrary, the curious and sometimes even weird longevity of 
obsolete bodies politic is a matter of historical record and was 
indeed an outstanding phenomenon of Western political history 
prior to the First World War, Even where the loss of authority 
is quite manifest, revolutions can break out and succeed only if 
there exists a sufficient number of men who are prepared for its 
collapse and, at the same time, willing to assume power, eager 
to organize and to act together for a common purpose. The 
number of such men need not be great; ten men acting together, 
as Mirabeau once said, can make a hundred thousand tremble 
apart from each other. 

In contrast to the appearance of the poor on the political scene 
during the French Revolution, which nobody had foreseen, this 
loss of authority of the body politic had been a well-known 
phenomenon in Europe and the colonies ever since the seven- 
teenth century. Montesquieu, more than forty years before the 
outbreak of die Revolution, knew well enough that ruin was 
slowly eating away the foundations on which political structures 
rested in the West, and he feared a return of despotism be- 
cause Europe's peoples, though they were still ruled by habit 
and custom, no longer felt at home politically, no longer trusted 
the laws under which they lived, and no longer believed in the 
authority of those who ruled them. He did not look forward to 
a new age of freedom but, on the contrary, feared lest freedom 
die out in the only stronghold it had ever found, since he was 
convinced that customs, habits, and manners - in short mores 
and morality, which are so important for the life of society and 
so irrelevant for the body politic - would give way quickly in 
any case of emergency. 1 And such estimates were by no means 

The Pursuit of Happiness 1 17 

restricted to France, where the corruption of the ancien rtgime 
constituted the fabric of the social as well as the political body. 
At about the same time, Hume observed in England that 'the 
mere name of King commands litde respect; and to talk of a 
king as God's vice-regent upon earth, or to give him any of 
these magnificent tides which formerly dazzled mankind, 
would but excite laughter in every one\ He does not trust the 
tranquillity in the country but believes - using almost the same 
words as Montesquieu - that with 'the least shock of con- 
vulsion .•.the kingly power being no longer supported by 
the settled principles and opinions of men, will immediately 
dissolve*. It was essentially for the same reasons of insecurity 
and diffidence about things as they then were in Europe that 
Burke so enthusiastically greeted the American Revolution: 
'Nothing less than a convulsion that will shake the globe to its 
centre can ever restore the European nations to that liberty by 
which they were once so much distinguished. The Western 
world was the seat of freedom until another, more Western, was 
discovered; and that other will be probably its asylum when it 
is hunted down in every other part/ 9 

Hence, what could be foreseen, what Montesquieu was only 
the first to predict explicidy, was the incredible ease with which 
governments would be overthrown; and the progressive loss of 
authority of all inherited political structures which he had in 
mind became plain to an increasing number of people every- 
where throughout the eighteenth century. What also must have 
been plain even then was that this political development was 
part and parcel of the more general development of die modern 
age. In its broadest terms, one can describe this process *s the 
breakdown of the old Roman trinity of religion, tradition, 
and authority, whose innermost principle had survived the 
change of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire, as it 
was to survive the change of the Roman Empire into the Holy 
Roman Empire; it was the Roman principle that now was fall- 
ing to pieces before the onslaught of the modern age. The down- 
fall of political authority was preceded by the loss of tradition 
and the weakening of institutionalized religious beliefs; it was 
the decrease of traditional and religious authority that per- 

n8 On Revolution 

haps undermined political authority as well and certainly 
forecast its ruin. Of the three elements which together, in 
mutual accord, had ruled the secular and spiritual affairs of 
men since the beginnings of Roman history, political authority 
was the last to vanish; it had depended upon tradition, it could 
not be secure without a past 'to throw its light upon the future* 
(Tocqueville), and it was unable to survive the lost sanction of 
religion. The enormous difficulties which especially the loss of 
religious sanction held in store for the establishment of a 
new authority, the perplexities which caused so many of the 
men of the revolutions to fall back upon or at least to invoke 
beliefs which they had discarded prior to the revolutions, we 
shall have to discuss later. 

If the men who, on both sides of the Atlantic, were prepared 
for the revolution had anything in common prior to the events 
which were to determine their lives, to shape their convictions, 
and eventually to draw them apart, it was a passionate concern 
for public freedom much in the way Montesquieu or Burke 
spoke about it, and this concern was probably even then, in 
the century of mercantilism and an undoubtedly very progres- 
sive absolutism, something rather old-fashioned. Moreover, they 
were by no means bent upon revolution, but, as John Adams 
put it, 'called without expectation and compelled without pre- 
vious inclination'; as Tocqueville testifies for France, 'the very 
notion of a violent revolution had no place in f their] mind; 
it was not discussed because it was not conceived.' 3 Yet, against 
Adams' word stands his own testimony that 'the revolution was 
effected before the war commenced',* not because of any specifi- 
cally revolutionary or rebellious spirit but because the inhabitants 
of the colonies were 'formed by law into corporations, or bodies 
politic', and possessed 'the right to assemble ... in their town 
halls, there to deliberate upon the public affairs'; it was 'in these 
assemblies of towns or districts that the sentiments of the people 
were formed in the first place'. 5 And against Tocqueville's re- 
mark stands his own insistence on 'the taste' or 'the passion for 
public freedom' which he found widespread in France prior to 
the outbreak of the revolution, predominant in fact in the minds 

The Pursuit of Happiness 1 19 

of those who had no conception whatsoever o£ revolution and no 
premonition of their own role in it. 

Even at this point, the difference between the Europeans and 
the Americans, whose minds were still formed and influenced 
by an almost identical tradition, is conspicuous and important. 
What was a passion and a 'taste' in France clearly was an ex- 
perience in America, and the American usage which, especially 
in the eighteenth century, spoke of 'public happiness', where the 
French spoke of 'public freedom', suggests this difference quite 
appropriately. The point is that the Americans knew that public 
freedom consisted in having a share in public business, and that 
the activities connected with this business by no means con- 
stituted a burden but gave those who discharged them in public 
a feeling of happiness they could acquire nowhere else. They 
knew very well, and John Adams-was bold enough to formulate 
this knowledge time and again, that the people went to the town 
assemblies, as their representatives later were to go to the famous 
Conventions, neither exclusively because of duty nor, and even 
less, to serve their own interests but most of all because they 
enjoyed the discussions, the deliberations, and the making of 
decisions. What brought them together was 'the world and the 
public interest of liberty' (Harrington), and what moved them 
was 'the passion for distinction' which John Adams held to be 
'more essential and remarkable' than any other human faculty : 
'Wherever men, women, or children, are to be found, whether 
they be old or young, rich or poor, high or low, wise or foolish, 
ignorant or learned, every individual is seen to be strongly 
actuated by a desire to be seen, heard, talked of, approved and 
respected by the people about him, and within his knowledge.' 
The virtue of this passion he called 'emulation', the 'desire to 
excel another', and its vice he called 'ambition' because it 'aims 
at power as a means of distinction'. 6 And, psychologically speak- 
ing, these are in fact the chief virtues and vices of political man. 
For the thirst and will to power as such, regardless of any 
passion for distinction, though characteristic of the tyrannical 
man, is no longer a typically political vice, but rather that quality 
which tends to destroy all political life, its vices no less than 

120 On Revolution 

its virtues. It is precisely because the tyrant has no desire to excel 
and lacks all passion for distinction that he finds it so pleasant to 
rise above the company of all men; conversely, it is the desire 
to excel which makes men love the world and enjoy the company 
of their peers, and drives them into public business. 

Compared to this American experience, the preparation of 
the French homtnes de lettres who were to make the Revolution 
was theoretical in the extreme; 7 no doubt *the play-actors 1 of the 
French Assembly also enjoyed themselves, although they would 
hardly have admitted it and certainly had no time to reflect 
upon this side of an otherwise grim business. They had no ex- 
periences to fall back upon, only ideas and principles untested by 
reality to guide and inspire them, and these had all been con- 
ceived, formulated, and discussed prior to the Revolution. Hence 
they depended even more on memories from antiquity, and they 
filled the ancient Roman words with suggestions that arose from 
language and literature rather than from experience and con- 
crete observation. Thus the very word res publica, la chose pub- 
lique, suggested to them that there existed no such thing as 
public business under the rule of a monarch. But when these 
words, and the dreams behind them, began to manifest them- 
selves in the early months of the Revolution, the manifestation 
was not in the form of deliberations, discussions, and decisions; it 
was, on the contrary, an intoxication whose chief element was 
the crowd - the mass 'whose applause and patriotic delight added 
as much charm as brilliance* to the Oath of the Tennis Court as 
experienced by Robespierre. No doubt the historian is right to 
add, 'Robespierre had experienced ... a revelation of Rous- 
seauism manifest in the flesh. He had heard ... the voice of the 
people, and thought it was the voice of God. From this moment 
dates his mission. 8 And yet, however strongly the emotions of 
Robespierre and his colleagues may have been swayed by experi- 
ences for which there were hardly any ancient precedents, their 
conscious thoughts and words would stubbornly return to 
Roman language. If we wish to draw the line in purely linguistic 
terms, we might insist on the relatively late date of the word 
'democracy', which stresses the people's rule and role, as opposed 
to the word 'republic', with its strong emphasis on objective in- 

The Pursuit of Happiness 121 

stitutions. And the word democracy' was not used in France 
until 1794; even the execution of the king was still accompanied 
by the shouts : Vive la rSpublique, 

Thus Robespierre's theory of revolutionary dictatorship, 
though it was prompted by the experiences of revolution, found 
its legitimation in the well-known Roman republican institution, 
and apart from it there was hardly anything new in theory that 
was added during these years to the body of eighteenth-century 
political thought. It is well known how much the Founding 
Fathers, their deep sense of the novelty of their enterprise not- 
withstanding, prided themselves on having only applied boldly 
and without prejudice what had been discovered long before. 
They considered themselves masters of political science because 
they dared and knew how to apply the accumulated wisdom of 
the past. That the Revolution consisted chiefly in the application 
of certain rules and verities of political science as the eighteenth 
century knew it is at best a half-truth even in America, and less 
than this in France, where unexpected events so early interfered 
with and ultimately defeated the constitution and the establish- 
ment of lasting institutions. Still, the truth is that without the 
Founding Fathers' enthusiastic and sometimes slightly comical 
erudition in political theory - the copious excerpts from writers, 
ancient and modern, which fill so many pages of John Adams* 
works, sometimes make it seem that he collected constitutions 
as other people collect stamps - no revolution would ever have 
been effected. 

In the eighteenth century the men prepared for power and 
eager, among other things, to apply what they had learned by 
study and thought were called hommes de lettres, and this is 
still a better name for them than our term 'intellectuals', under 
which we habitually subsume a class of professional scribes and 
writers whose labours are needed by the ever-expanding bureau- 
cracies of modern government and business administration as 
well as by the almost equally fast-growing needs for entertain- 
ment in mass society. The growth of this class in modern times 
was inevitable and automatic; it would have come about under 
all circumstances, and it might be argued - if one takes into 
account the unsurpassed conditions for its development in the 

122 On Revolution 

political tyrannies of the East - that its chances were even better 
under the rule of despotism and absolutism than under the con- 
stitutional rule of free countries. The distinction between the 
hommes de lettres and the intellectuals by no means rests on an 
obvious difference in quality; more important in our context is 
the fundamentally different attitudes these two groups have 
shown, ever since the eighteenth century, toward society, that is, 
toward that curious and somewhat hybrid realm which the 
modern age interjected between the older and more genuine 
realms of the public or political on one side and the private on 
the other. Indeed, the intellectuals are and always have been part 
and parcel of society, to which as a group they even owed their 
existence and prominence; all pre-revolutionary governments in 
eighteenth-century Europe needed and used them for 'the build- 
ing up of a body of specialized knowledge and procedures in- 
dispensable for the growing operation of their governments on 
all levels, a process which stresses the esoteric character of 
governmental activities.' 9 The men of letters, on the contrary, 
resented nothing more than the secrecy of public affairs; they 
had started their career by refusing this sort of governmental 
service and by withdrawing from society, first from the society 
of the royal court and the life of a courtier, and later from the 
society of the salon. They educated themselves arid cultivated 
their minds in a freely chosen seclusion, thus putting themselves 
at a calculated distance from the social as well as the political, 
from which they were excluded in any case, in order to look 
upon both in perspective. It is only from about the middle of the 
eighteenth century that we find them in open rebellion against 
society and its prejudices, and the prerevolutionary defiance had 
been preceded by the quieter but no less penetrating, considered, 
and deliberate contempt for society which was the source even of 
Montaigne's wisdom, which sharpened even the depth of Pascal's 
thoughts, and which left its traces still upon many pages of 
Montesquieu's work. This, of course, is not to deny the enor- 
mous difference in mood and style between the contemptuous 
disgust of the aristocrat and the resentful hatred of the plebeians 
which was to follow it; but the object of both contempt and 
hatred, we must remember, was more or less the same. 

The Pursuit of Happiness 123 

Moreover, no matter to which 'estate 1 the men of letters be- 
longed, they were free from the burden of poverty. Dissatisfied 
with whatever prominence state or society of the ancien regime 
might have granted them, they felt that their leisure was a 
burden rather than a blessing, an imposed exile from the realm 
of true freedom rather than the freedom from politics which 
philosophers since antiquity have claimed for themselves in order 
to pursue activities they deemed to be higher than those which 
engage men in public business. In other words, their leisure was 
the Roman otium and not the Greek axoXf| ; it was an enforced 
inactivity, a 'languishing in idle retirement', where philosophy 
was supposed to deliver some 'cure for grief (a doloris medici- 
nam),™ and they were still quite in the Roman style when they 
began to employ this leisure in the interest of the res publica, la 
chose publique, as the eighteenth century, translating literally 
from the Latin, called the realm of public affairs. Hence they 
turned to the study of Greek and Roman authors, not - and this 
is decisive - for the sake of whatever eternal wisdom or im- 
mortal beauty the books themselves might contain, but almost 
exclusively in order to learn about the political institutions to 
which they bore witness. It was their search for political freedom, 
not their quest for truth, that led them back to antiquity, and 
their reading served to give them the concrete elements with 
which to think and dream of such freedom. In the words of 
Tocqueville, 'Chaque passion publique se deguisa ainsi en 
philosophic' Had they known in actual experience what public 
freedom meant for the individual citizen, they might have 
agreed with their American colleagues and spoken about 'public 
happiness'; for one needs only to recall the rather common 
American definition of public happiness - given, for instance, 
by Joseph Warren in 1772 - as depending 'on virtuous and un- 
shaken attachment to a free Constitution', to realize how closely 
related the actual contents of the apparently different formulae 
must have been. Public or political freedom and public or politi- 
cal happiness were the inspiring principles which prepared the 
minds of those who then did what they never had expected to 
. do, and more often than not were compelled to acts for which 
they had no previous inclination. 

124 On Revolution 

The men who in France prepared the minds and formulated 
the principles of the coming revolution are known as the_ 
philosopher of the Enlightenment. But the name of philosophers 
to which they laid claim was rather misleading; for their sig- 
nificance in the history of philosophy is negligible, and their 
contribution to the history of political thought does not equal 
the originality of their great predecessors in the seventeenth and 
early eighteenth centuries. However, their importance in the 
context of revolution is great; it lies in the fact thaj:_they_used 
the term freedom with a new, hitherto almost unknown 
emphasis on public freedom, an indication that they und erstood 
by freedom something very different from the free will or free 
thought the philosophers had known and discussed since 
Augustine. Their public freedom was not an inner realmjnto 
which men might escape at will from the pressures of the world, 
nor was it the liberum arbitrium which makes the^ill^choose 
between alternatives. Freedom for them could exist onlyuin. 
public; it was a tangible, worldly reality, something created by 
men to be enjoyed by men rather than a gift or a capacity, it 
was the man-made public space or market-place which antiquity 
had known as the area where freedom appears and becomes 
visible to all. ~ 

For the absence of political freedom under the rule of the 
enlightened absolutism in the eighteenth century did not consist 
so much in the denial of specific personal liberties, certainly not 
for the members of the upper classes, as in the fact 'that the world 
of public affairs was not only hardly known to them but was 
invisible'. 11 What the hommes de lettres shared with the poor, 
quite apart from, and also prior to, any compassion with their 
suffering, was precisely obscurity, namely, that the public realm 
was invisible to them and that they lacked the public space 
where they themselves could become visible and be of signifi- 
cance. What distinguished them from the poor was that they 
had been offered, by virtue of birth and circumstances, the social 
substitute for political significance which is consideration, and 
their personal distinction lay precisely in the fact that they had 
refused to settle in 'the land of consideration' (as Henry James 
calls the domain of society), opting rather for the secluded 

The Pursuit of Happiness 125 

obscurity of privacy where they could at least entertain and 
nourish their passion for significance and freedom. To be sure, 
this passion for freedom for its own sake, for the sole 'pleasure 
to be able to speak, to act, to breathe' (Tocqucville), can arise 
only where men are already free in the sense that they do not 
have a master. And the trouble is that this passion for public or 
political freedom can so easily be mistaken for the perhaps much 
more vehement, but politically essentially sterile, passionate 
hatred of masters, the longing of the oppressed for liberation. 
Such hatred, no doubt, is as old as recorded history and probably 
even older; it has never yet resulted in revolution since it is 
incapable of even grasping, let alone realizing, the central idea of 
revolution, which is the foundation of freedom, that is, the 
foundation of a body politic which guarantees the space where 
freedom can appear. 

Under modern conditions, the act of foundation is identical 
with the framing of a constitution, and the calling of constitu- 
tional assemblies has quite rightly become the hallmark of revolu- 
tion ever since the Declaration of Independence initiated the 
writings of constitutions for each of the American States, a 
process which prepared and culminated in the Constitution of 
the Union, the foundation of the United States. It is probable 
that this American precedent inspired the famous Oath of the 
Tennis Court in which the Third Estate swore that it would not 
disband before a constitution was written and duly accepted by 
the royal power. Yet what also has remained a hallmark of 
revolutions is the tragic fate which awaited the first constitution 
in France; neither accepted by the king nor commissioned and 
ratified by the nation - unless one holds that the hissing or 
applauding galleries which attended the deliberations of the 
National Assembly were the valid expression of the constituent, 
or even the consenting, power of the people - the Constitution of 
1791 remained a piece of paper, of more interest to the learned 
and the experts than to the people. Its authority was shattered 
even more before it went into effect, and it was followed in quick 
succession by one constitution after another until, in an avalanche 
of constitutions lasting deep into our own century, the very 
notion of constitution disintegrated beyond recognition. The 

126 On Revolution 

deputies of the French Assembly who had declared themselves 
a permanent body and then, instead of taking their resolutions 
and deliberations back to the people, cut themselves adrift from 
their constituent powers, did not become founders or founding 
fathers, but they certainly were the ancestors of generations of 
experts and politicians to whom constitution-making was to 
become a favourite pastime because they had neither power nor 
a share in the shaping of events. It was in this process that the 
act of constitution-making lost its significance, and that the very 
notion of constitution came to be associated with a lack of reality 
and realism, with an over-emphasis on legalism and formalities. 

We today are still under the spell of this historical develop- 
ment, and so we may find it difficult to understand that revolu- 
tion on the one hand, and constitution and foundation on the 
other, are like correlative conjunctions. To the men of the 
eighteenth century, however, it was still a matter of course that 
they needed a constitution to lay down the boundaries of the 
new political realm and to define the rules within it, that they 
had to found and build a new political space within which the 
'passion for public freedom' or the 'pursuit of public happiness' 
would receive free play for generations to come, so that their 
own 'revolutionary' spirit could survive the actual end of the 
revolution. However, even in America where the foundation of 
a new body politic succeeded and where therefore, in a sense, the 
Revolution achieved its actual end, this second task of revolu- 
tion, to assure the survival of the spirit out of which the act of 
foundation sprang, to realize the principle which inspired it - 
a task which, as we shall see, Jefferson especially considered to be 
of supreme importance for the very survival of the new body 
politic - was frustrated almost from the beginning. And a sug- 
gestion pointing to the forces that caused this failure can be 
found in the very term 'pursuit of happiness' that Jefferson him- 
self, in the Declaration of Independence, had put in the stead of 
'property' in the old formula of 'life, liberty, and property', 
which currently defined civil, as distinct from political, rights. 

What makes Jefferson's substitution of terms so suggestive is 
that he did not use the term 'public happiness', which we find so 
frequently in the political literature of the time and which was 

The Pursuit of Happiness 127 

probably a significant American variation of the conventional 
idiom in royal proclamations where 'the welfare and the hap- 
piness of our people* quite explicitly meant the private welfare 
of the king's subjects and their private happiness. 12 Thus Jeffer- 
son himself - in a paper for the Virginia Convention of 1774 
which in many respects anticipated the Declaration of Independ- 
ence - had declared that 'our ancestors' when they left the 
'British dominions in Europe' exercised c a right which nature 
has given all men, ... of establishing new societies, under such 
laws and regulations as to them shall seem most likely to pro- 
mote public happiness.' 13 If Jefferson was right and it was in 
quest of 'public happiness' that the 'free inhabitants of the British 
dominions' had emigrated to America, then the colonies in the 
New World must have been the breeding grounds of revolu- 
tionaries from the beginning. And? by the same token, they must 
have been prompted even then by some sort of dissatisfaction 
with the rights and liberties of Englishmen, prompted by a 
desire for some kind of freedom which the 'free inhabitants' of 
the mother country did not enjoy. 1 * This freedom they called 
later, when they had come to taste it, 'public happiness', and it 
consisted in the citizen's right of access to the public realm, in 
his share in public power - to be 'a participator in the govern- 
ment of affairs' in Jefferson's telling phrase 15 -as distinct from the 
generally recognized rights of subjects to be protected by the 
government in the pursuit of private happiness even against 
public power, that is, distinct from rights which only tyrannical 
power would abolish. The very fact that the word 'happiness' 
was chosen in laying claim to a share in public power indicates 
strongly that there existed in the country, prior to the revolution, 
such a thing as 'public happiness', and that men knew they 
could not be altogether 'happy' if their happiness was located 
and enjoyed only in private life. 

However, the historical fact is that the Declaration of In- 
dependence speaks of 'pursuit of happiness', not of public happi- 
ness, and the chances arc that Jefferson himself was not very sure 
in his own mind which kind of happiness he meant when he 
made its pursuit one of the inalienable rights of man. His famous 
'felicity of pen' blurred the distinction between 'private rights 

128 On Revolution 

and public happiness' 16 with the result that the importance of his 
alteration was not even noticed in the debates of the Assembly. 
To be sure, none of the delegates would have suspected the 
astonishing career of this 'pursuit of happiness', which was to 
contribute more than anything else to a specifically American 
ideology, to the terrible misunderstanding that, in the words of 
Howard Mumford Jones, holds that men are entitled to 'the 
ghastly privilege of pursuing a phantom and embracing a 
delusion'. 17 In the eighteenth-century setting, the term, as we 
have seen, was familiar enough, and, without the qualifying 
adjective, each of the successive generations was free to under- 
stand by it what it pleased. But this danger of confusing public 
happiness and private welfare was present even then, although 
one may assume that the delegates to the Assembly still- held fast 
to the general belief of 'colonial publicists, that "there is an in- 
separable connection between public virtue and public happi- 
ness", and that liberty [is] the essence of happiness'. 18 For 
Jefferson - like the rest of them, with the possible exception only 
of John Adams - was by no means aware of the flagrant contra- 
diction between the new and revolutionary idea of public happi- 
ness and the conventional notions of good government which 
even then were felt to be 'hackneyed' (John Adams) or to repre- 
sent no more than 'the common sense of the subject' (Jefferson); 
according to these conventions, the 'participators in the govern- 
ment of affairs' were not supposed to be happy but to labour 
under a burden, happiness was not located in the public realm 
which the eighteenth century identified with the realm of 
government, but government was understood as a means to pro- 
mote the happiness of society, the -only legitimate object of good 
government', 19 so that any experience of happiness in the 
'participators' themselves could only be ascribed to an 'inordi- 
nate passion for power', and the wish for participation on the 
side of the governed could only be justified by the need to check 
and control these 'unjustifiable' tendencies of human nature. 20 
Happiness, Jefferson too would insist, lies outside the public 
realm, 'in the lap and love of my family, in the society of my 
neighbours and my books, in the wholesome occupation of my 

The Pursuit of Happiness 129 

farms and my affairs', 21 in short, in the privacy of a home upon 
whose life the public has no claim. 

Reflections and exhortations of this sort are quite current in 
the writings of the Founding Fathers, and yet I think they do 
not carry much weight there - little weight in Jefferson's and less 
in John Adams' works. 22 If we were to probe into the authentic 
experiences behind the commonplace that public business is a 
burden, at best 'a tour of duty . . . due from every individual' to 
his fellow citizens, we had better turn to the fifth and fourth 
centuries b.c. in Greece than to the eighteenth century a.d. of our 
civilization. As far as Jefferson and the men of the American 
Revolution are concerned - again with the possible exception of 
John Adams - the truth of their experience rarely came out 
when they spoke in generalities. Some of them, it is true, would 
get indignant about 'the nonsense of Plato', but this did not 
prevent their thought from being predetermined by Plato's 'foggy 
mind' rather than by their own experiences whenever they tried 
to express themselves in conceptual language. 23 Still, there are 
more than a few instances when their profoundly revolutionary 
acting and thinking broke the shell of an inheritance which had 
degenerated into platitudes and when their words matched the 
greatness and novelty of their deeds. Among these instances is 
the Declaration of Independence, whose greatness owes nothing 
to its natural-law philosophy - in which case it would indeed be 
'lacking in depth and subtlety' 2 * - but lies in the 'respect to the 
Opinion of mankind', in the 'appeal to the tribunal of the world 
... for our justification', 25 that inspired the very writing of the 
document, and it unfolds when the list of very specific grievances 
against a very particular king gradually develops into a rejection 
on principle of monarchy and kingship in general. 25 For this 
rejection, in contrast to the other theories underlying the docu- 
ment, was something altogether new, and the profound and 
even violent antagonism of monarchists and republicans, as it 
developed in the course of both the American and the French 
Revolutions, was practically unknown prior to their actual out- 

Since the end of antiquity, it had been common in political 

130 On Revolution 

theory to distinguish between government according to law and 
tyranny, whereby tyranny was understood to be the form of 
government in which the ruler ruled out of his own will and in 
pursuit of his own interests, thus offending the private welfare 
and the lawful, civil rights of the governed. Under no circum- 
stances could monarchy, one-man rule, as such be identified with 
tyranny; yet it was precisely this identification to which the 
revolutions quickly were to be driven. Tyranny, as the revolu- 
tions came to understand it, was a form of government in which 
the ruler, even though he ruled according to the laws of the 
realm, had monopolized for himself the right of action, banished 
the citizens from the public realm into the privacy of their house- 
holds, and demanded of them that they mind their own, private 
business. Tyranny, in other words, deprived of public happiness, 
though not necessarily of private well-being, while a republic 
granted to every citizen the right to become 'a participator in the 
government of affairs', the right to be seen in action. The word 
'republic', to be sure, does not yet occur; it was only after the 
Revolution that all non-republican governments were felt to be 
despotisms. But the principle out of which the republic even- 
tually was founded was present enough in the 'mutual pledge* 
of life, fortune, and sacred honour, all of which, in a monarchy, 
the subjects would not 'mutually pledge to each other' but to the 
crown, representing the realm as a whole. No doubt there is a 
grandeur in the Declaration of Independence, but it consists not 
in its philosophy and not even so much in its being 'an argument 
in support of an action' as in its being the perfect way for an 
action to appear in words. (As Jefferson himself saw it : 'Neither 
aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied 
from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be 
an expression of the American mind, and to give that expres- 
sion the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.' 27 ) And 
since we deal here with the written, and not with the spoken 
word, we are confronted with one of the rare moments in history 
when the power of action is great enough to erect its "own 

Another such instance which bears directly upon the issue of 
public happiness is of a much less grave, though perhaps not of 

The Pursuit of Happiness 131 

a less serious character. It may be found in the curious hope 
Jefferson voiced at the end of his life when he and Adams had 
begun to discuss, half jokingly and half in earnest, the pos- 
sibilities of an afterlife. Obviously, such images of life in a here- 
after, if we strip them of their religious connotations, present 
nothing more nor less than various ideals of human happiness. 
And Jefferson's true notion of happiness comes out very clearly 
(without any of the distortions through a traditional, conven- 
tional framework of concepts which, it turned out, was much 
harder to break than the structure of the traditional form of 
government) when he lets himself go in a mood of playful and 
sovereign irony and concludes one of his letters to Adams as 
follows: 'May we meet there again, in Congress, with our 
antient Colleagues, and receive with them the seal of approba- 
tion "Well done, good and faithful servants." m Here, behind 
the irony, we have the candid admission that life in Congress, 
the joys of discourse, of legislation, of transacting business, of 
persuading and being persuaded, were to Jefferson no less con- 
clusively a foretaste of an eternal bliss to come than the delights 
of contemplation had been for medieval piety. For even 'the seal 
of approbation' is not at all the common reward for virtue in a 
future state; it is the applause, the demonstration of acclaim, 'the 
esteem of the world' in which Jefferson in another context says 
that there had been a time when it 'was of higher value in my 
eye than everything in it'. 29 

In order to understand how truly extraordinary it was, within 
the context of our tradition, to see in public, political happiness 
an image of eternal bliss, it may be well to recall that for 
Thomas Aquinas, for example, the perfecta beatitudo consisted 
entirely in a vision, the vision of God, and that for this vision the 
presence of no friends was required (amici non requiruntur ad 
perfectam beatitudincm)?* all of which, incidentally, is still in 
perfect accord with Platonic notions of the life of an immortal 
soul. Jefferson, on the contrary, could think of a possible im- 
provement on the best and happiest moments of his life only by 
enlarging the circle of his friends so that he could sit 'in Con- 
gress' with the most illustrious of his 'Colleagues*. To find a 
similar image of the quintessence of human happiness reflected 

132 On Revolution 

in the playful anticipation of an afterlife, we would have to go 
back to Socrates, who, in a famous passage in the Apology, 
frankly and smilingly confessed that all he could ask for was, so 
to speak, more of the same - namely, no island of the blessed 
and no life of an immortal soul utterly unlike the life of mortal 
man, but the enlargement of the circle of Socrates' friends in 
Hades by those illustrious men of the Greek past, Orpheus and 
Musaeus, Hesiod and Homer, whom he had not been able to 
meet on earth and with whom he would have liked to engage 
in those unending dialogues of thought of which he had 
become the master. 

However that may be, of one thing at least we may be sure : 
the Declaration of Independence, though it blurs the distinction 
between private and public happiness, at least still intends us to 
hear the term 'pursuit of happiness* in its twofold meaning: 
private welfare as well as the right to public happiness, the pur- 
suit of well-being as well as being a 'participator in public 
affairs'. But the rapidity with which the second meaning was 
forgotten and the term used and understood without its original 
qualifying adjective may well be the standard by which to 
measure, in America no less than in France, the loss of the 
original meaning and the oblivion of the spirit that had been 
manifest in the Revolution. 

We know what happened in France in the form of great 
tragedy. Those who needed and desired liberation from their 
masters or from necessity, the great master of their masters, 
rushed to the assistance of those who desired to found a space 
for public freedom - with the inevitable result that priority had 
to be given to liberation and that the men of the Revolution 
paid less and less attention to what they had originally con- 
sidered to be their most important business, the framing of a 
constitution. Tocqueville again is quite right when he remarks 
that 'of all ideas and sentiments which prepared the Revolution, 
the notion and the taste of public liberty strictly speaking have 
been the first ones to disappear'. 31 And yet, was not Robespierre's 
profound unwillingness to put an end to the revolution also 
due to his conviction that 'constitutional government is chiefly 
concerned with civil liberty, revolutionary government with 

The Pursuit of Happiness 133 

public liberty'? 32 Must he not have feared that the end of revolu- 
tionary power and the beginning of constitutional government 
would spell the end of 'public liberty'? That the new public 
space would wither away after it had suddenly burst into life 
and intoxicated them all with the wine of action which, as a 
matter of fact, is the same as the wine of freedom? 

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, Robespierre's 
clear-cut distinction between civil and public liberty bears an 
obvious resemblance to the vague, conceptually ambiguous 
American use of the term 'happiness'. Prior to both revolutions, 
it had been in terms of civil liberties and public freedom, or of 
the people's welfare and public happiness, that the hommes de 
lettres on either side of the Atlantic had tried to answer the old 
question: What is the end of government? That, under the 
impact of revolution, the question now became : What is the 
end of revolution and revolutionary government? was natural 
enough, although it happened only in France. In order to under- 
stand the answers given to this question, it is important not to 
overlook the fact that the men of the revolutions, preoccupied 
as they had been with the phenomenon of tyranny — which 
deprives its subjects of both civil liberties and public freedom, of 
private welfare as well as public happiness, and therefore tends 
to obliterate the distinguishing line between them - were able to 
discover the sharpness of the distinction between the private and 
the public, between private interests and the common weal, only 
in the course of the revolutions, during which the two principles 
came into conflict with each other. This conflict was the same in 
the American and the French Revolutions, though it assumed 
very different expressions. For the American Revolution, it was 
a question of whether the new government was to constitute a 
realm of its own for the 'public happiness' of its citizens, or 
whether it had been devised solely to serve and ensure their pur- 
suit of private happiness more effectively than had the old 
regime. For the French Revolution, it was a question of whether 
the end of revolutionary government lay in the establishment of 
a 'constitutional government' which would terminate the reign 
of public freedom through a guarantee of civil liberties and 
rights, or whether, for the sake of 'public freedom*, the Revolu- 

134 ® n Revolution 

tion should be declared in permanence. The guarantee of civil 
liberties and of the pursuit of private happiness had long been 
regarded as essential in all non-tyrannical governments where 
the rulers governed within the limits of the law. If nothing more 
was at stake, then the revolutionary changes of government, the 
abolition of monarchy and the establishment of republics must 
be regarded as accidents, provoked by no more than the wrong- 
headedness of the old regimes. Had this been the case, reforms 
and not revolution, the exchange of a bad ruler for a better one 
rather than a change of government, should have been the 

As a matter of fact, the rather modest beginnings of both 
revolutions suggest that nothing more was originally intended 
than reforms in the direction of constitutional monarchies, even 
though the experiences of the American people in the realm of 
'public happiness' must have been considerable prior to their 
conflicts with England. The point, however, is that both the 
French and the American Revolutions were very quickly driven 
to an insistence on the establishment of republican governments, 
and this insistence, together with the new violent antagonism 
of monarchists and republicans, grew directly out of the revolu- 
tions themselves. The men of the revolutions, at any rate, had 
made their acquaintance with 'public happiness', and the impact 
of this experience had been sufficiently profound for them to 
prefer under almost any circumstances - should the alternatives 
unhappily be put to them in such terms - public freedom to civil 
liberties or public happiness to private welfare. Behind Robes- 
pierre's theories, which foreshadow the Revolution declared in 
permanence, one can discern the uneasy, alarmed, and alarming 
question that was to disturb almost every revolutionary after him 
who was worth his salt: if the end of revolution and the intro- 
duction of constitutional government spelled the end of public 
freedom, was it then desirable to end the revolution ? 

Had Robespierre lived to watch the development -»f the new 
government of the United States, where the Revolution had 
never seriously curtailed civil rights and, perhaps for this reason, 
succeeded precisely where the French Revolution failed, namely 
in the task of foundation; where, moreover and in this context 

The Pursuit of Happiness 135 

most importantly, the founders had become rulers so that the 
end of revolution did not spell the end of their 'public happiness', 
his doubts might still conceivably have been confirmed. For the 
emphasis shifted almost at once from the contents of the Con- 
stitution, that is, the creation and partition of power, and the rise 
of a new realm where, in the words of Madison, 'ambition would 
be checked by ambition' 33 - the ambition, of course, to excel and 
be of 'significance', not the ambition to make a career - to the 
Bill of Rights, which contained the necessary constitutional 
restraints upon government; it shifted, in other words, from 
public freedom to civil liberty, or from a share in public affairs 
for the sake of public happiness to a guarantee that the pur- 
suit of private happiness would be protected and furthered 
by public power. Jefferson's new formula - so curiously 
equivocal in the beginning, recalling both the assurance of royal 
proclamations with their emphasis on the people's private wel- 
fare (which implied their exclusion from public affairs), and the 
current prc-revolutionary phrase of 'public happiness' - was 
almost immediately deprived of its double sense and understood 
as the right of citizens to pursue their personal interests and thus 
to act according to the rules of private self-interest. And these 
rules, whether they spring from dark desires of the heart or from 
the obscure necessities of the household, have never been notably 

In order to understand what happened in America we need 
perhaps only recall the outrage of Crevccceur, that great lover of 
American pre-rcvolutionary equality and prosperity, when his 
private happiness as a husbandman was interrupted by the out- 
break of war and revolution - 'demons' he considered to have 
been 'let loose against us' by 'those great personages who are 
so far elevated above the common rank of men' that they cared 
more for independence and the foundation of the republic than 
for the interests of husbandmen and household heads. 34 This con- 
flict bet ween priva te interes ts __and publje affairs played an 
enormous role in both revolutions, and, generally speaking, one 
can say that the men of the. revolutions were those who, out of 
their genuine love for public freedom and public happiness 
rather than out of any self-sacrificing idealism, consistently 

136 On Revolution 

thought andjcted jnterms of pu blic affairs. In America, where, 
in the beginning, the existence of the country had been staked 
upon a contest of principle, and where the people had risen in 
rebellion over measures whose economic significance was trivial, 
the Constitution was ratified even by those who - in debt to 
British merchants to whose suits the Constitution would open 
the federal courts - had much to lose in terms of private interest, 
indicating that the founders had a majority of the people on 
their side at least throughout the war and the Revolution. 33 Yet 
even during this period, one can clearly see how, from start to 
finish, Jefferson's drive for a place of public happiness and John 
Adams' passion for 'emulation', his spectemur agendo - 'let us 
be seen in action', let us have a space where we are seen and can 
act - came into conflict with ruthless and fundamentally anti- 
political desires to be rid of all public cares and duties; to estab- 
lish a mechanism of government administration through which 
men could control their rulers and still enjoy the advantages of 
monarchical government, to be 'ruled without their own agency', 
to have 'time not required for the supervision or choice of the 
public agents, or the enactment of laws', so that 'their attention 
may be exclusively given to their personal interests'. 38 

The outcome of the American Revolution, as distinct from the 
purposes which started it, has always been ambiguous, and the 
question of whether the end of government was to be prosperity 
or freedom has never been settled. Side by side with those who 
came to this continent for the sake of a new world, or rather for 
the sake of building a new world on a newly discovered con- 
tinent, there had always been those who hoped for nothing more 
than a new 'way of life'. It is not surprising that the latter should 
have outnumbered the former; as for the eighteenth century, the 
decisive factor might well have been that 'after the Glorious 
Revolution the migration to America of important English ele- 
ments ceased'. 37 In the language of the founders, the question 
was whether 'the supreme object to be pursued' was the 'real wel- 
fare of the great body of the people', 38 the greatest happiness of 
the greatest number, or if it was rather 'the principal end of 
government to regulate [the passion to excel and to be seen] 
which in its turn becomes a principle means of government.' 39 

The Pursuit of Happiness jyj 

This alternative between freedom and prosperity, as we see it 
today, was by no means a clear-cut issue in the minds of either 
the American founders or the French revolutionaries, but from 
this it does not follow that it was not present. There has always 
been not only a difference but an antagonism between those who, 
in the words of Tocqueville, 'seem to love liberty and only hate 
their masters', and those who know: 'Qui cherche dans la 
liberte autre chose qu'elle-meme est fait pour servir.' 40 

The extent to which the ambiguous character of the revolu- 
tions derived from an equivocality in the minds of the men who 
made them is perhaps best illustrated by the oddly self-con- 
tradicting formulations which Robespierre enunciated as the 
'Principles of Revolutionary Government 1 . He started by defin- 
ing the aim of constitutional government as the preservation of 
the republic which revolutionary -government had founded for 
the purpose of establishing public freedom. Yet, no sooner had he 
defined the chief aim of constitutional government as the 'preser- 
vation of public freedom* than he turned about, as it were, and 
corrected himself : 'Under constitutional rule it is almost enough 
to protect the individuals against the abuses of public power.' 41 
With this second sentence, power is still public and in the hands 
of government, but the individual has become powerless and 
must be protected against it. Freedom, on the other hand, has 
shifted places; it resides no longer in the public realm but in the 
private life of the citizens and so must be defended against the 
public and its power. Freedom and power have parted company, 
and the fateful equating of power with violence, of the political 
with government, and of government with a necessary evil, has 

We could have drawn similar, though less succinct, illustra- 
tions from American authors, and this, of course, is only another 
way of saying that the social question interfered with the course 
of the American Revolution no less sharply, though far less 
dramatically, than it did with the course of the French Revolu- 
tion. Yet the difference is still profound. Since the country was 
never overwhelmed by poverty, it was 'the fatal passion for 
sudden riches' rather than necessity that stood in the way of the 
founders of the republic. And this particular pursuit of happiness 

138 On Revolution 

which, in the words of Judge Pendleton, has always tended 'to 
extinguish every sentiment of political and moral duty', 42 could 
be held in abeyance at least long enough to throw the founda- 
tions and to erect the new building - though not long enough to 
change the minds of those who were to inhabit it. The result, 
in contradistinction to the European development, has been that 
the revolutionary notions of public happiness and political free- 
dom have never altogether vanished from the American scene; 
they have become part and parcel of the very structure of the 
political body of the republic. Whether this structure has a 
granite groundwork capable of withstanding the futile antics of a 
society intent upon affluence and consumption, or whether it 
will yield under the pressure of wealth as the European com- 
munities have yielded under the pressure of wretchedness and 
misfortune, only the future can tell. There exist today as many 
signs to justify hope as there are to instil fear. 

In this context, the point of the matter is that America has 
always been, for better or worse, an enterprise of European 
mankind. Not only the American Revolution but everything 
that happened before and after 'was an event within an Atlantic 
civilization as a whole'. 43 Thus, just as the fact that poverty was 
conquered in America had the deepest repercussions in Europe, 
so did the fact that misery remained for so much longer the 
condition of Europe's lower classes have a profound impact upon 
the course of events in America after the Revolution. The 
foundation of freedom had been preceded by liberation from 
poverty, for America's early, pre-revolutionary prosperity - 
achieved hundreds of years before the mass emigration of the 
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries washed yearly 
hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of Europe's poorest 
classes on to her shores - was, at least partly, the result of a 
deliberate and concentrated effort toward liberation from poverty 
such as had never been made in the countries of the Old World. 
This effort in itself, this early determination to conquer the 
seemingly sempiternal misery of mankind, is certainly one of the 
greatest achievements of Western history and of the history of 
mankind. The trouble was that the struggle to abolish poverty, 
under the impact of a continual mass immigration from Europe, 

The Pursuit of Happiness 139 

fell more and more under the sway of the poor themselves, and 
hence came under the guidance of the ideals born out of poverty, 
as distinguished from those principles which had inspired the 
foundation of freedom. 

For abundance and endless consumfftion are the ideals of the 
poor : they are the mirage in the desert of misery. In this sense, 
affluence and wretchedness are only two sides of the same coin; 
the bonds of necessity need not be of iron, they can be made of 
silk. Freedom and luxury have always been thought to be in- 
compatible, and the modern estimate that tends to blame the 
insistence of the Founding Fathers on frugality and 'simplicity 
of manners' (Jefferson) upon a Puritan contempt for the delights 
of the world much rather testifies to an inability to understand 
freedom than to a freedom from prejudice. For that 'fatal passion 
for sudden riches' was never the vice of the sensuous but the 
dream of the poor; and it has been so prevalent in America, 
almost from the beginning of its colonization, because the coun- 
try was, even in the eighteenth century, not only the 'land of 
liberty, the seat of virtue, the asylum of the oppressed', but also 
the promised land of those whose conditions hardly had pre- 
pared them for comprehending either liberty or virtue. It is still 
Europe's poverty that has taken its revenge in the ravages with 
which American prosperity and American mass society increas- 
ingly threaten the whole political realm. The hidden wish of 
poor men is not 'To each according to his needs', but 'To each 
according to his desires*. And_while it is > true thatjreedom can 
only come to those whose needs have been fulfilled, it is equally 
true that it will escape those who are bent upon living for their 
desires. The American dream, as the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries under the impact of mass immigration came to under- 
stand it, was neither the dream of the American Revolution - 
the foundation of freedom - nor the dream of the French Revo- 
lution - the liberation of man; it was, unhappily, the dream of 
a 'promised land' where milk and honey flow. And the fact that 
the development of modern technology was so soon able to 
realize this dream beyond anyone's wildest expectation quite 
naturally had the effect of confirming for the dreamers that they 
really had come to live in the best of all possible worlds. 

140 On Resolution 

In conclusion, one can hardly deny that Crevecceur was right 
when he predicted that 'the man will get the better of the citizen, 
[that] his political maxims will vanish*, that those who in all 
earnestness say, The happiness of my family is the only object 
of my wishes', will be applauded by nearly everyone when, in 
the name of democracy, they vent their rage against the 'great 
personages who are so far elevated above the common rank of 
man' that their aspirations transcend their private happiness, or 
when, in the name of the 'common man' and some confused 
notion of liberalism, they denounce public virtue, which cer- 
tainly is not the virtue of the husbandman, as mere ambition, 
and those to whom they owe their freedom as 'aristocrats' who 
(as in the case of poor John Adams) they believe were possessed 
by a 'colossal vanity'.* 4 The conversion of the citizen of tjxe 
revolutions into the private inaTvidual - of nineteenth-century 
society has often been described, usuaHyin ternis of thy French 
Revolution, which spoke of citoyens and bourgeois. On aTmore 
sophisticated level, we may consider this disappearance of the 
'taste for political freedom' as the withdrawal of the individual 
into an 'inward domain of consciousness' where it finds the only 
'appropriate region of human liberty'; from this region, as 
though from a crumbling fortress, the individual, having got the 
better of the citizen, will then defend himself against a society 
which in its turn gets 'the better of individuality'. 45 This process, 
more than the revolutions, determined the physiognomy of the 
nineteenth century as it partly does even that of the twentieth 


Foundation I: 

Constitutio hibertatis 

That there existed men in the Old World to dream of public 
freedom, that there were men in the New World who had 
tasted public happiness - these were ultimately the facts which 
caused the movement for restoration, for recovery of the old 
rights and liberties, to develop into a revolution on either side of 
the Atlantic. And no matter how far, in success and failure, 
events and circumstances were to drive them apart, the Ameri- 
cans would still have agreed with Robespierre on the ultimate 
aim of revolution, the constitution of freedom, and on the actual 
business of revolutionary government, the foundation of a 
republic. Or perhaps it was the other way round and Robespierre 
had been influenced by the course of the American Revolution 
when he formulated his famous 'Principles of Revolutionary 
Government'. For in America the armed uprising of the colo- 
nies and the Declaration of Independence had been followed by 
a spontaneous outbreak of constitution-making in all thirteen 
colonies - as though, in John Adams' words, thirteen clocks 
had struck as one' - so that there existed no gap, no 
hiatus, hardly a breathing spell between the war of liberation, 
the fight for independence which was the condition for freedom, 
and the constitution of the new states. Although it is true that 
'the first act of the great drama', the 'late American war', was 
closed before the American Revolution had come to an end, 1 
it is equally true that these two altogether different stages of the 
revolutionary process began at almost the same moment and con- 
tinued to run parallel to each other all through the years of war. 
The importance of this development can hardly be over- 

142 On Revolution 

estimated. The miracle, if such it was, that saved the American 
Revolution was not that the colonists should have been strong 
and powerful enough to win a war against England but that this 
victory did not end 'with a multitude of Commonwealths, 
Crimes and Calamities . . .; till at last the exhausted Provinces 
[would] sink into Slavery under the yoke of some fortunate 
Conqueror', 2 as John Dickinson had rightly feared. Such is in- 
deed the common fate of a rebellion which is not followed by 
revolution, and hence the common fate of most so-called revolu- 
tions. If, however, one keeps in mind that the end of rebellion is 
liberation, while the end of revolution is the foundation of free- 
dom, the political scientist at least will know how to avoid the 
pitfall of the historian who tends to place his emphasis upon 
the first and violent stage of rebellion and liberation, on the 
uprising against tyranny, to the detriment of the quieter second 
stage of revolution and constitution, because all the dramatic 
aspects of his story seem to be contained in the first stage and, 
perhaps, also because the turmoil of liberation has so frequently 
defeated the revolution. This temptation, which befalls the 
historian because he is a storyteller, is closely connected with the 
much more harmful theory that the constitutions and the fever 
of constitution-making, far from expressing truly the revolution- 
ary spirit of the country, were in fact due to forces of reaction 
and either defeated the revolution or prevented its full develop- 
ment, so that - logically enough - the Constitution of the United 
States, the true culmination of this revolutionary process, is 
understood as the actual result of counter-revolution. The basic 
misunderstanding lies in the failure to distinguish between 
liberation and freedom; there is nothing more futile than rebel- 
lion and liberation unless they are followed by the constitution 
of the newly won freedom. For 'neither morals, nor riches, nor 
discipline of armies, nor all these together will do without a 
constitution' (John Adams). 

Yet even if one resists this temptation to equate revolution with 
the struggle for liberation, instead of identifying revolution with 
the foundation of freedom, there remains the additional, and in 
our context more serious, difficulty that there is very little in 
form or content of the new revolutionary constitutions which 

Foundation J: Constitutio Libertatis 143 

was even new, let alone revolutionary. The notion of con- 
stitutional government is of course by no means revolutionary in 
content or origin; it means nothing more or less than govern- 
ment limited by law, and the safeguard of civil liberties through 
constitutional guarantees, as spelled out by the various bills of 
rights which were incorporated into the new constitutions and 
which are frequently regarded as their most important part, 
never intended to spell out the new revolutionary powers of the 
people but, on the contrary, were felt to be necessary in order to 
limit the power of government even in the newly founded body 
politic. A bill of rights, as Jefferson remarked, was 'what the 
people are entitled to against every government on earth, general 
or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest 
on inference'. 3 

In other words, constitutional government was even then, as 
it still is today, limited government in the sense in which the 
eighteenth century spoke of a limited monarchy', namely, a 
monarchy limited in its power by virtue of laws. Civil liberties 
as well as private welfare lie within the range of limited govern- 
ment, and their safeguard does not depend upon the form of 
government. Only tyranny, according to political theory a 
bastard form of government, does away with constitutional, 
namely, lawful government. However, the liberties which the 
laws of constitutional government guarantee are all of a nega- 
tive character, and this includes the right of representation for 
the purposes of taxation which later became the right to vote; 
they are indeed 'not powers of themselves, but merely an exemp- 
tion from the abuses of power';* they claim not a share in govern- 
ment but a safeguard against government. Whether we trace the 
notion of this constitutionalism back to Magna Charta and hence 
to feudal rights, privileges, and pacts concluded between the 
royal power and the estates of the kingdom, or whether, on the 
contrary, we assume that 'nowhere do we find modern con- 
stitutionalism until an effective central government has been 
brought into existence*, 5 is relatively unimportant in our context. 
If no more had ever been at stake in the revolutions than this 
kind of constitutionalism, it would be as though the revolutions 
had remained true to their modest beginnings when they still 

144 On Revolution 

could be understood as attempts at restoration of 'ancient* liber- 
ties : the truth of the matter, however, is that this was not the 

There is another and perhaps even more potent reason why we 
find it difficult to recognize the truly revolutionary element in 
constitution-making. If we take our bearings not by the revolu- 
tions of the eighteenth century but by the series of upheavals 
that followed upon them throughout the nineteenth and twen- 
tieth centuries, it seems as though we are left with the alternative 
between revolutions which become permanent, which do not 
come to an end and do not produce their end, the foundation of 
freedom, and those where in the aftermath of revolutionary up- 
heaval some new 'constitutional* government eventually comes 
into existence that guarantees a fair amount of civil liberties and 
deserves, whether in the form of a monarchy or a republic, no 
more than the name of limited government. The first of these 
alternatives clearly applies to the revolutions in Russia and 
China, where those in power not only admit the fact but boast 
of having maintained indefinitely a revolutionary government; 
the second alternative applies to the revolutionary upheavals 
which swept nearly all European countries after the First World 
War, as well as to many colonial countries that won their inde- 
pendence from European rule after the Second World War. In 
these cases, constitutions were by no means the result of revolu- , 
tion; they were imposed, on the contrary, after a revolution had 
failed, and they were, at least in the eyes of the people living 
under them, the sign of its defeat, not of its victory. They were 
usually the work of experts, though not in the sense in which 
Gladstone had called the American Constitution 'the most 
wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and 
purpose of man', but rather in the sense in which Arthur 
Young even in 1792 felt that the French had adopted the *new 
word', which *they use as it a constitution was a pudding to be 
made by a recipe*. 6 Their purpose was to stem the tide of revolu- 
tion, and if they too served to limit power, it was the power of 
the government as well as the revolutionary power of the people 
whose manifestation had preceded their establishment. 7 

One, and perhaps not the least, of the troubles besetting a 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libertatis 145 

discussion of these matters is merely verbal. The word 'constitu- 
tion 1 obviously is equivocal in that it means the act of con- 
stituting as well as the law or rules of government that are 
'constituted*, be these embodied in written documents or, as in 
the case of the British constitution, implied in institutions, 
customs, and precedents. It is clearly impossible to call by the 
same name and to expect the same results from those 'con- 
stitutions* which a non-revolutionary government adopts because 
the people and their revolution had been unable to constitute 
their own government, and those other 'constitutions' which 
either, in Gladstone's phrase, 'had proceeded from progressive 
history' of a nation or were the result of the deliberate attempt 
by a whole people at founding a new body politic. The distinc- 
tion as well as the confusion are perfectly apparent in the famous 
definition of the word by Thomas^Paine, a definition in which 
he only summed up and reasoned out what the fever of American 
constitution-making must have taught him: *A constitution is 
not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a 
government'. 8 Hence the need in France as in America for con- 
stituent assemblies and special conventions whose sole task it 
was to draft a constitution; hence also the need to bring the 
draft home and back to the people and have the Articles of Con- 
federacy debated, clause by clause, in the town-hall meetings and, 
later, the articles of the Constitution in the state congresses. For 
the point of the matter was not at all that the provincial con- 
gresses of the thirteen colonies could not be trusted to establish 
state governments whose powers were properly and sufficiently 
limited, but that it had become a principle with the constituents 
'that the people should endow the government with a constitu- 
tion and not vice versa*. 9 

A brief glance at the various destinies of constitutional govern- 
ment outside the Anglo-American countries and spheres of in- 
fluence should be enough to enable us to grasp the enormous 
difference in power and authority between a constitution imposed 
by a government upon a people and the constitution by which 
a people constitutes its own government. The constitutions of 
experts under which Europe came to live after the First World 
War were all based, to a large extent, upon the model of the 

146 On Revolution 

American Constitution, and taken by themselves they should 
have worked well enough. Yet the mistrust they have always 
inspired in the people living under them is a matter of historical 
record as is the fact that fifteen years after the downfall of 
monarchial government on the European continent more than 
half of Europe lived under some sort of dictatorship, while the 
remaining constitutional governments, with the conspicuous 
exception of the Scandinavian countries and of Switzerland, 
shared the sad lack of power, authority, and stability which even 
then was already the outstanding characteristic of the Third 
Republic in France. For lack of power and the concomitant want 
of authority have been the curse of constitutional government in 
nearly all European countries since the abolition of absolute 
monarchies, and the fourteen constitutions of France between 
1789 and 1875 have caused, even before the rainfall of postwar 
constitutions in the twentieth century, the very word to become 
a mockery. Finally, we may remember, the periods of constitu- 
tional government were nicknamed times of the 'system' (in 
Germany after the First World War and in France after the 
Second), a word by which the people indicated a state of affairs 
where legality itself was submerged in a system of half-corrupt 
connivances from which every right-minded person should 
be permitted to excuse himself since it hardly seemed worth 
while even to rise in revolt against it. In short, and in the words 
of John Adams, 'a constitution is a standard, a pillar, and a bond 
when it is understood, approved and beloved. But without this 
intelligence and attachment, it might as well be a kite or balloon, 
flying in the air'. 10 

.The difference between a constitution that is the act of govern- 
ment and the constitution by which people constitute a govern- 
ment is obvious enough. To it must be added another difference 
which, though closely connected with it, is much more difficult 
to perceive. If there was anything which the constitution-makers 
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had in common with 
their American ancestors in the eighteenth century, it was a mis- 
trust in power as such, and this mistrust was perhaps even more 
pronounced in the New World than it ever had been in the old 
countries. That man by his very nature is 'unfit to be trusted 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libcrtatis 147 

with unlimited power', that those who wield power arc likely to 
turn into 'ravenous beasts of prey', that government is necessary 
in order to restrain man and his drive for power and, therefore, 
is (as Madison put it) a reflection upon human nature' - these 
were commonplaces in the eighteenth century no less than in the 
nineteenth, and they were deeply ingrained in the minds of the 
Founding Fathers. All this stands behind the bills of rights, and 
it formed the general agreement on the absolute necessity of con- 
stitutional government in the sense of limited government; and 
yet, for the American development it was not decisive. The 
founders' fear of too much power in government was checked 
by their great awareness of the enormous dangers of the rights 
and liberties of the citizen that would arise from within society. 
Hence, according to Madison, *it is of great importance in a 
republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of 
its rulers; but to guard one part of the society against the in- 
justice of the other part,* to save 'the rights of individuals, or of 
the minority . . . from interested combinations of the majority*. 11 
This, if nothing else, required the constitution of public, govern- 
mental power whose very essence could never be derived from 
something which is a mere negative, i.e., constitutional limited 
government, although European constitution-makers and con- 
stitutionalists saw in it the quintessence of the blessings of the 
American Constitution. What they admired, and from the view- 
point of Continental history rightly, was in fact the blessings of 
'mild government' as it had developed organically out of British 
history, and since these blessings were not only incorporated into 
all constitutions of the New World but most emphatically spelled 
out as the inalienable rights of all men, they failed to under- 
stand, on one hand, the enormous, overriding importance of the 
foundation of a republic and, on the other, the fact that the 
actual content of the Constitution was by no means the safe- 
guard of civil liberties but the establishment of an entirely new 
system of power. 

In this respect, the record of the American Revolution speaks 
an entirely clear, unambiguous language. It was not constitu- 
tionalism in the sense of 'limited', lawful government that pre- 
occupied the minds of the founders. On this they were agreed 

148 On Revolution 

beyond the need for discussion or even clarification, and even in 
the days when feeling against England's king and Parliament 
ran highest in the country, they remained somehow conscious of 
the fact that they still dealt with a 'limited monarchy' and not 
with an absolute prince. When they declared their independence 
from this- government, and after they" had foresworn their 
allegiance to the crown, the main question for them certainly 
was not how to limit power but how to establish it, not how to 
limit government but how to found a new one. The fever of 
constitution-making which gripped the country immediately af- 
ter the Declaration of Independence prevented the development 
of a power vacuum, and the establishment of new power could 
not be based upon what had always been essentially a negative 
on power, that is, the bills of rights. 

This whole matter is so easily and frequently confused because 
of the important part the 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and 
the Citizen' came to play in the course of the French Revolution, 
where these rights indeed were assumed not to indicate the 
limitations of all lawful government, but on the contrary to be 
its very foundation. Quite apart from the fact that the declara- 
tion 'All men are born equal', fraught with truly revolutionary 
implications in a country which still was feudal in social and 
political organization, had no such implication in the New 
World, there is the even more important difference in emphasis 
with regard to the only absolutely new aspect in the enumera- 
tion of civil rights, and that is that these rights were now 
declared solemnly to be rights of all men, no matter who they 
were or where they lived. This difference in emphasis came 
about when the Americans, though quite sure that what they 
claimed from England were 'the rights of Englishmen', could 
no longer think of themselves in terms of 'a nation in whose 
veins the blood of freedom circulates' (Burke); even the trickle 
of non-English and non-British stock in their midst was enough 
to remind them : € Whether you be English, Irish, Germans, or 
Swedes, . . . you are entitled to all the liberties of Englishmen 
and the freedom of this constitution'. 12 What they were saying 
and .proclaiming was in fact that those rights which up to now 
had been enjoyed only by Englishmen should be enjoyed in 

Foundation I; Constitutio Libertatis 149 

the future by all men 13 - in other words, all men should live 
under constitutional, 'limited' government. The proclamation of 
human rights through the French Revolution, on the contrary, 
meant quite literally that every man by virtue of being born had 
become the owner of certain rights. The consequences of this 
shifted emphasis are enormous, in practice no less than in theory. 
The American version actually proclaims no more than the 
necessity of civilized government for all mankind; the French 
version, however, proclaims the existence of rights independent 
of and outside the body politic, and then goes on to equate these 
so-called rights, namely the rights of man qua man, with the 
rights of citizens. In our context, we do not need to insist on the 
perplexities inherent in the very concept of human rights nor on 
the sad inefficacy of all declarations, proclamations, or enumera- 
tions of human rights that were* not immediately incorporated 
into positive law, the law of the land, and applied to those who 
happened to live there. The trouble with these rights has always 
been that they could not but be less than the rights of nationals, 
and that they were invoked only as a last resort by those who 
had lost their normal rights as citizens, 14 We need only to ward 
off from our considerations the fateful misunderstanding, sug- 
gested by the course of the French Revolution, that the pro- 
clamation of human rights or the guarantee of civil rights could 
possibly become the aim or content of revolution. 

The aim of the state constitutions which preceded the Con- 
stitution of the Union, whether drafted by provincial congresses 
or by constitutional assemblies (as in the case of Massachusetts), 
was to create new centres of power after the Declaration of In- 
dependence had abolished the authority and power of crown 
and Parliament. On this task, the creation of new power, 
the founders and men of the Revolution brought to bear the 
whole arsenal of what they themselves called their 'political 
science', for political science, in their own words, consisted in 
trying to discover 'the forms and combinations of power in 
republics 1 . 15 Highly aware of their own ignorance on the sub- 
ject, they turned to history, collecting with a care amounting 
to pedantry all examples, ancient and modern, real and fictitious, 
of republican constitutions; what they tried to learn in order to 

150 On Revolution 

dispel their ignorance was by no means the safeguards of civil 
liberties - a subject on which they certainly knew much more 
than any previous republic - but the constitution of power. This 
was also the reason for the enormous fascination exerted by 
Montesquieu, whose role in the American Revolution almost 
equals Rousseau's influence on the course of the French Revolu- 
tion; for the main subject of Montesquieu's great work, studied 
and quoted as an authority on government at least a decade 
before the outbreak of the Revolution, was indeed 'the con- 
stitution of political freedom', 16 but the word 'constitution 1 in 
this context has lost all connotations of being a negative, a 
limitation and negation of power; the word means, on the con- 
trary, that the 'grand temple of federal liberty' must be based 
on the foundation and correct distribution of power. It was 
precisely because Montesquieu - unique in this respect among 
the sources from which the founders drew their political wisdom 
- had maintained that power and freedom belonged together; 
that, conceptually speaking, political freedom did not reside in 
the I-will but in the I-can, and that therefore the political realm 
must be construed and constituted in a way in which power and 
freedom would be combined, that we find his name invoked in 
practically all debates on constitution. 17 Montesquieu confirmed 
what the founders, from the experience of the colonies, knew to 
be right, namely, that liberty was 'a natural Power of doing or 
not doing whatever we have a Mind', and when we read in the 
earliest documents of colonial times that 'deputyes thus chosen 
shall have power and liberty to appoynt* we can still hear how 
natural it was for these people to use the two words almost as 
synonyms. 18 

It is well known that no question played a greater role in these 
debates than did the problem of the separation or the balance of - 
powers, and it is perfectly true that the notion of such a separa- 
tion was by no means Montesquieu's exclusive discovery. As a 
matter of fact, the idea itself - far from being the outgrowth of a 
mechanical, Newtonian world view, as has recently been sug- 
gested - is very old; it occurs, at least implicitly, in the traditional 
discussion of mixed forms of government and thus can be traced 
back to Aristotle, or at least to Polybius, who was perhaps the 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 151 

first to be aware of some of the advantages inherent in mutual 
checks and balances. Montesquieu seems to have been unaware 
of this historical background; he had taken his bearings by what 
he believed to be the unique structure of the English constitu- 
tion, and whether or not he interpreted this constitution correctly 
is of no relevance today and was of no great importance even in 
the eighteenth century. For Montesquieu's discovery actually 
concerned the nature of power, and this discovery stands in so 
flagrant a contradiction to all conventional notions on this 
matter that it has almost been forgotten, despite the fact that the 
foundation of the republic in America was largely inspired by it. 
The discovery, contained in one sentence, spells out the forgotten 
principle underlying the whole structure of separated powers: 
that only 'power arrests power', that is, we must add, without 
destroying it, without putting impotence4n the place of power. 19 
For power can of course be destroyed by violence; this is what 
happens in tyrannies, where the violence of one destroys the 
power of the many, and which therefore, according to Montes- 
quieu, are destroyed from within : jhey perish because they 
engender impotence instead of "power. But power, contrary to 
what we are inclined to think, cannot be checked, at least not 
reliably, by laws, for the so-called power of the ruler which is 
checked in constitutional, limited, lawful government is in fact 
not power but violence, it is the mutiplied strength of the one 
who has monopolized the power of the many. Laws, on the 
other hand, are always in danger of being abolished by the 
power of the many, and in a conflict between law and power it 
is seldom the law which will emerge as victor. Yet even if we 
assume that law is capable of checking power - and on this 
assumption all truly democratic forms of government must rest 
if they are not to degenerate into the worst and most arbitrary 
tyranny - the limitation which laws set upon power can only 
result in a decrease of its potency. Power can be stopped and 
still be kep t inta ct only by power^so that the principle of the 
separation of power not only provides a guarantee against the 
monopolization of power by one part of the government, but 
actuallyprovidcs a kind of mechanism, built into the very heart 
of government, through which new power is constantly gener- 

152 On Revolution 

ated, without, however, being able to overgrow and expand 
to the detriment of other centres or sources of power. Monte? 
quieu's famous insight that even virtue stands in need of 
limitation and that even an excess of reason is undesirable occurs 
in his discussion of the nature of power; 20 to him, virtue and 
reason were powers rather than mere faculties, so that their 
preservation and increase had to be subject to the same con- 
ditions which rule over the preservation and increase of power* 
Certainly it was not because he wanted less virtue and less reason 
that Montesquieu demanded their limitation. 

This side of the matter is usually overlooked because we think 
of the division of power only in terms of its separation in the 
three branches of government. The chief problem of the 
founders, however, was how to establish union out of thirteen 
'sovereign', duly constituted republics; their task was the founda- 
tion of a 'confederate republic* which - in the language of the 
time, borrowed from Montesquieu - would reconcile the advan- 
tages of monarchy in foreign affairs with those of republicanism 
in domestic policy. 21 And in this task of the Constitution there 
was no longer any question of constitutionalism in the sense of 
civil rights - even though a Bill of Rights was then incorporated 
into the Constitution as amendments, as a necessary supplement 
to it - but of erecting a system of powers that would check and 
balance in such a way that the power neither of the union nor 
of its parts, the duly constituted states, would decrease or destroy 
one another. 

How well this part of Montesquieu's teaching was under- 
stood in the days of the foundation of the republic 1 On the level 
of theory, its greatest defender was John Adams, whose entire 
political thought turned about the balance of powers. And when 
he wrote: Tower must be opposed to power, force to force, 
strength to strength, interest to interest, as well as reason to 
reason, eloquence to eloquence, and passion to passion', he 
obviously believed he had found in this very opposition an in- 
strument to generate more power, more strength, more reason, 
and not to abolish them. 22 On the level of practice and the 
erection of institutions, we may best turn to Madison's argument 
on the proportion and balancing of power between the federal 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libertatis 153 

and the state governments. Had he believed in the current 
notions of the indivisibility of power - that divided power is less 
power 23 - he would have concluded that the new power of the 
union must be founded on powers surrendered by the states, 
so that the stronger the union was to be, the weaker its con- 
stituent parts were to become. His point, however, was that the 
very establishment of the Union had founded a new source of 
power which in no way drew its strength from the powers of the 
states, as it had not been established at their expense. Thus he 
insisted : 'Not the states ought to surrender their powers to the 
national government, rather the powers of the central govern- 
ment should be greatly enlarged ... It should be set as a check 
upon the exercise by the state governments of the considerable 
powers which must still remain with them.' 24 Hence, 'if [the 
governments of the particular states] were abolished, the general 
government would be compelled by the principle of self- 
preservation to reinstate them in their proper jurisdiction'. 25 In 
this respect, the great and, in the long run, perhaps the greatest 
American innovation in politics as such was the consistent 
abolition of sovereignty within the body politic of the republic, 
the insight that in the realm of human affairs sovereignty and 
tyranny are the same. The defect of the Confederacy was that 
there had been no 'partition of power between the General and 
the Local Governments'; and that it had acted as the central 
agency of an alliance rather than as a government; experience 
had shown that in this alliance of powers there was a dangerous 
tendency for the allied powers not to act as checks upon one 
another but to cancel one another out, that is, to breed im- 
potence. 26 What the founders were afraid of in practice was not 
power but impotence, and their fears were intensified by the 
view of Montesquieu, quoted throughout these discussions, that 
republican government was effective only in relatively small ter- 
ritories. Hence, the discussion turned about the very viability of 
the republican form of government, and both Hamilton and 
Madison called attention to another view of Montesquieu, 
according to which a confederacy of republics could solve the 
problems of larger countries under the condition that the con- 
stituted bodies - small republics - were capable of constituting 

154 O n Revolution 

a new body politic, the confederate republic, instead of resigning 
themselves to a mere alliance. 27 

Clearly, the true objective of the American Constitution was 
not to limit power but to create more power, actually to establish 
and duly constitute an entirely new power centre, destined to 
compensate the confederate republic, whose authority was to be 
exerted over a large, expanding territory, for the power lost 
through the separation of the colonies from the English crown. 
This complicated and delicate system, deliberately designed to 
keep the power potential of the republic intact and prevent any 
of the multiple power sources from drying up in the event of 
further expansion, 'of being increased by the addition of other 
members*, was entirely the child of revolution. 28 The American 
Constitution finally consolidated the power of the Revolution, 
and since the aim of revolution was freedom, it indeed came to 
be what Bracton had called Constitutio Libertatu, the founda- 
tion of freedom. 

To believe that the short-lived European postwar constitu- 
tions or even their predecessors in the nineteenth century, whose 
inspiring principle had been distrust of power in general and 
fear of the revolutionary power of the people in particular, could 
constitute the same form of government as the American Con- 
stitution, which had sprung from confidence in having dis- 
covered a power principle strong enough to found a perpetual 
union, is to be fooled by words. 

However obnoxious these misunderstandings may be, they are 
not arbitrary and hence cannot be ignored. They would not have 
arisen if it had not been for the historical fact that the revolutions 
had started as restorations, and that it was difficult indeed, most 
difficult for the actors themselves, to say when and why the 
attempt at restoration was transformed into the irresistible event 
of revolution. Since their original intention had not been the 
foundation of freedom but the recovery of the rights and liberties 
of limited government, it was only natural that the men of 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 155 

revolution themselves, when finally confronted by the ultimate 
rask of revolutionary government, the foundation of a republic, 
should be tempted to speak of .the new freedom, born in the 
course of revolution, in terms of ancient liberties. 

Something very similar is true with respect to the other key 
terms of revolution, the interrelated terms of power and 
authority. We mentioned before that no revolution ever suc- 
ceeded, that few rebellions ever started, so long as the authority 
of the body politic was truly intact. Thus, from the very 
beginningi the recovery of ancient liberties was accompanied by 
the reinstitution of lost authority and lost power. And again, 
just as the old concept of liberty, because of the attempted 
restoration, came to exert a strong influence on the interpretation 
of the new experience of freedom, so the old understanding of 
power and authority, even if thcip former representatives were 
most violently denounced, almost automatically led the new ex- 
perience of power to be channelled into concepts which had just 
been vacated. It is this phenomenon of automatic influences 
which indeed entitles the historians to state : 'The nation stepped 
into the shoes of the Prince' (F, W. Maitland) but 'not before the 
Prince himself had stepped into the pontifical shoes of Pope and 
Bishop* - and then to conclude that this was the reason why 'the 
modern Absolute State, even without a Prince, was able to make 
claims like a Church*. 29 

Historically speaking, the most obvious and the most decisive 
distinction between the American and the French Revolutions 
was that the historical inheritance of the American Revolution 
was 'limited monarchy* and that of the French Revolution an 
absolutism which apparently reached far back into the first 
centuries of our era and the last centuries of the Roman Empire. 
Nothing, indeed, seems more natural than that a revolution 
should be predetermined by the type of government it over- 
throws; nothing, therefore, appears more plausible than to ex- 
plain the new absolute, the absolute revolution, by the absolute 
monarchy which preceded it, and to conclude that the more 
absolute the ruler, the more absolute the revolution will be which 
replaces him. The records of both the French Revolution in the 
eighteenth century and the Russian Revolution which modelled 

156 On Revolution 

itself upon it in our own century could easily be read as one 
series. of demonstrations of this plausibility. What else did even 
Sieves do but simply put the sovereignty of the nation into the 
place which had been vacated by a sovereign king? What could 
have been more natural to him than to put the nation above the 
law, as the French king's sovereignty had long since ceased to 
mean independence from feudal pacts and obligations and, at 
least since the days of Bodin, had meant the true absoluteness of 
regal power, a potestas legibus soluta, power absolved from the 
laws? And since the person of the king had not only been the 
source of all earthly power, but his will the origin of all earthly 
law, the nation's will, obviously, from now on had to be the 
law itself. 30 On this point the men of the French Revolution 
were no less in complete agreement than the men of the 
American Revolution were in agreement on the necessity to 
limit . government, and just as Montesquieu's theory of the 
separation of powers had become axiomatic for American politi- 
cal thought because it took its cue from the English constitution, 
so Rousseau's notion of a General Will, inspiring and directing 
the nation as though it were no longer composed of a multitude 
but actually formed one person, became axiomatic for all factions 
and parties of the French Revolution, because it was indeed the 
theoretical substitute for the sovereign will of an absolute 
monarch. The point of the matter was that the absolute monarch 
- unlike the constitutionally limited king - not only represented 
the potentially everlasting life of the nation, so that 'the king is 
dead, long live the king* actually meant that the king 'is a Cor- 
poration in himself that liveth ever'; 81 he also incarnated on earth 
a divine origin in which law and power coincided. His will, 
because it supposedly represented God's will on earth, was the 
source of both law and power, and it was this identical origin 
that made law powerful and power legitimate. Hence, when the 
men of the French Revolution put the people into the seat of the 
king it was almost a matter of course for them to see in the 
people not only, in accord with ancient Roman theory and in full 
agreement with the principles of the American Revolution, the 
source and the locus of all power, but the origin of all laws as 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 157 

The singular good fortune of the American Revolution is un- 
deniable. It occurred in a country which knew nothing of the 
predicament of mass poverty and among a people who had a 
widespread experience with self-government; to be sure, not the 
least of these blessings was that the Revolution grew out of a 
conflict with a 'limited monarchy'. In the government of king 
and Parliament from which the colonies broke away, there was 
no potestas legibus soluta, no absolute power absolved from laws. 
Hence, the framers of American constitutions, although they 
knew they had to establish a new source of law and to devise a 
new system of power, were never even tempted to derive law and 
power from the same origin. The seat of power to them was the 
people, but the source of law was to become the Constitution, a 
written document, an endurable objective thing, which, to be 
sure, one could approach from many different angles and upon 
which one could impose many different interpretations, which 
one could change and amend in accordance with circumstances, 
but which nevertheless was never a subjective state of mind, like 
the will. It has remained a tangible worldly entity of greater 
durability than elections or public-opinion polls. Even when, at 
a comparatively late date and, presumably, under the influence 
of Continental constitutional theory, the supremacy of the Con- 
stitution was argued 'on the ground solely of its rootage in 
popular will', it was felt that, once the decision was taken, it 
remained binding for the body politic to which it gave birth; 32 
and even if there were people who reasoned that in a free govern- 
ment the people must retain the power 'at any time, for any 
cause, or for no cause, but their own sovereign pleasure, to alter 
or annihilate both the mode and the essence of any former 
government, and adopt a new one in its stead', 3 -'* they remained 
rather lonely figures in the Assembly. In this, as in other cases, 
what appeared in France as a genuine political or even philo- 
sophic problem came to the fore during the American Revolu- 
tion in such an unequivocally vulgar form that it was discredited 
even before anybody had bothered to make a theory out of it. 
For, of course, those who expected from the Declaration of 
Independence 'a form of government [in which], by being 
independent of the rich men, every man would then be able to 

158 On Revolution 

do as he pleased', were never lacking; 3 * yet they remained with- 
out any influence on theory or practice of the Revolution. And 
still, however great the good fortune of the American Revolu- 
tion, it was not spared the most troublesome of all problems in 
revolutionary government, the problem of an absolute. 

That the problem of an absolute is bound to appear in a revolu- 
tion, that it is inherent in the revolutionary event itself, we 
might never have known without the American Revolution. If 
we had to take our cue solely from the great European revolu- 
tions : from the English civil war in the seventeenth century, the 
French Revolution in the eighteenth, and the October Revolu- 
tion in the twentieth, we might be so overwhelmed with 
historical evidence pointing unanimously to the interconnection 
of absolute monarchy followed by despotic dictatorships as to 
conclude that the problem of an absolute in the political realm 
was due exclusively to the unfortunate historical inheritance, to 
the absurdity of absolute monarchy, which had placed an abso- 
lute, the person of the prince, into the body politic, an absolute 
for which the revolutions then erroneously and vainly tried to 
find a substitute. It is tempting indeed to blame absolutism, the 
antecedent of all but the American Revolution, for the fact that 
its fall destroyed the whole fabric of European government to- 
gether with the European community of nations, and that the 
flames of revolutionary conflagration, kindled by the abuses of 
the anciens regimes, eventually were to set the whole world on 
fire. Whereby today it is no longer of great relevance whether 
the new absolute to be put into the place of the absolute sovereign 
was Sicyes's nation from the beginnings of the French Revolu- 
tion or whether it became with Robespierre, at the end of four 
years of revolutionary history, the revolution itself. For what 
eventually set the world on fire was precisely a combination of 
these two, of national revolutions or revolutionary nationalism, 
of nationalism speaking the language of revolution or of revolu- 
tions arousing the masses with nationalist slogans. And in 
neither case was the course of the American Revolution ever 
followed or repeated: constitution-making was never again 
understood as the foremost and the noblest of all revolutionary 
deeds, and constitutional government, if it came into existence 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libertatis 159 

at all, had a tendency to be swept away by the revolutionary 
movement which had brought it into power. Not constitutions, 
the end product and also the end of revolutions, but revolu- 
tionary dictatorships, designed to drive on and intensify the 
revolutionary movement, have thus far been the more familiar 
outcome of modern revolution - unless the revolution was de- 
feated and succeeded by some kind of restoration. 

The fallacy of such historical reflections, however legitimate, is 
that they take for granted what upon closer inspection turns out 
to be by no means a matter of course. European absolutism in 
theory and practice, the existence of an absolute sovereign whose 
will is the source of both power and law, was a relatively new 
phenomenon; it had been the first and most conspicuous con- 
sequence of what we call secularization, namely, the emancipa- 
tion of secular power from the authority of the Church. Absolute 
monarchy, commonly and rightly credited with having prepared 
the rise of the nation-state, has been responsible, by the same 
token, for the rise of the secular realm with a dignity and a 
splendour of its own. The short-lived, tumultuous story of the 
Italian city-states, whose affinity with the later story of revolu- 
tions consists in a common harkening back to antiquity, to the 
ancient v glory of the political realm, might have forewarned and 
could have foretold what the chances and what the perplexities 
would be that lay in store for the modern age in the realm of 
politics, except, of course, that there exist no such foretellings 
and forewarnings in history. Moreover, it was precisely the use of 
absolutism which for centuries clouded these perplexities because 
it seemed to have found, within the political realm itself, a fully 
satisfactory substitute for the lost religious sanction of secular 
authority in the person of the king or rather in the institution of 
kingship. But this solution, which the revolutions soon enough 
were to unmask as a pseudo-solution, served only to hide, for 
some centuries, the most elementary predicament of all modern 
political bodies, their profound instability, the result of some 
elementary lack of authority. 

The specific sanction which religion and religious authority 
had bestowed upon the secular realm could not simply be re- 
placed by an absolute sovereignty, which, lacking a transcendent 

160 On Revolution 

and transmundane source, could only degenerate into tyranny 
and despotism. The truth of the matter was that when the Prince 
'had stepped into the pontifical shoes of Pope and Bishop', he 
did not, for this reason, assume the function and receive the 
sanctity of Bishop or Pope; in the language of political theory, he 
was not a successor but a usurper, despite all the new theories 
about sovereignty and the divine rights of princes. Seculariza- 
tion, the emancipation of the secular realm from the tutelage of 
the Church, inevitably posed the problem of how to found and 
constitute a new authority without which the secular realm, far 
from acquiring a new dignity of its own, would have lost even 
the derivative importance it had held under the auspices of the 
Church. Theoretically speaking, it is as though absolutism were 
attempting to solve this problem of authority without having 
recourse to the revolutionary means of a new foundation; it 
solved the problem, in other words, within the given frame of 
reference in which the legitimacy of rule in general, and the 
authority of secular law and power in particular, had always 
been justified by relating them to an absolute source which itself 
was not of this world. The revolutions, even when they were not 
burdened with the inheritance of absolutism as in the case of the 
American Revolution, still occurred within a tradition which 
was partly founded on an event in which the 'word had become 
flesh', that is, on an absolute that had appeared in historical 
time as a mundane reality. It was because of the mundane nature 
of this absolute that authority as such had become unthinkable 
without some sort of religious sanction, and since it was the task 
of the revolutions to establish a new authority, unaided by 
custom and precedent and the halo of immemorial time, they 
could not but throw into relief with unparalleled sharpness the 
old problem, not of law and power per se, but of the source of 
law which would bestow legality upon positive, posited laws, 
and of the origin of power which would bestow legitimacy 
upon the powers that be. 

The enormous significance for the political realm of the lost 
sanction of religion is commonly neglected in the discussion of 
modern secularization, because the rise of the secular realm, 
which was the inevitable result of the separation of church and 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libertatis 161 

state, of the emancipation of politics from religion, seems so ob- 
viously to have taken place at the expense of religion; through 
secularization, the Church lost much of her earthly property and, 
more important, the protection of secular power. Yet, as a matter 
of fact, this separation cut both ways, and just as one speaks of 
an emancipation of the secular from the religious, one may, and 
perhaps with even more right, speak of an emancipation of 
religion from the demands and burdens of the secular, which 
had weighed heavily upon Christianity ever since the disintegra- 
tion of the Roman Empire had forced the Catholic Church to 
assume political responsibilities. For 'true religion', as William 
Livingstone once pointed out, 'wants not the princes of this 
world to support it; but has in fact either languished or been 
adulterated wherever they meddled with it'. 35 The numerous 
difficulties and perplexities, theoretical and practical, that have 
beset the public, political realm ever since the rise of the secular, 
the very fact that secularization was accompanied by the rise of 
absolutism and the downfall of absolutism followed by revolu- 
tions whose chief perplexity was where to find an absolute from 
which to derive authority for law and power, could well be 
taken to demonstrate that politics and the state needed the 
sanction of religion even more urgently than religion and the 
churches had ever needed the support of princes. 

The need for an absolute manifested itself in many different 
ways, assumed different disguises, and found different solutions. 
Its function within the political sphere, however, was always the 
same : it was needed to break two vicious circles, the one appar- 
ently inherent in human law-making, and the other inherent in 
the petitio principii which attends every new beginning, that is, 
politically speaking, in the very task of foundation. The first of 
these, the need of all positive, man-made laws for an external 
source to bestow legality upon them and to transcend as a 
'higher law* the legislative act itself, is of course very familiar 
and was already a potent factor in the shaping of absolute 
monarchy. What Sieyes maintained with respect to the nation, 
that 'it would be ridiculous to assume that the nation is bound 
by the formalities or by the constitution to which it has sub- 
jected its mandatories', 36 is equally true with respect to the 

162 On Revolution 

absolute prince, who indeed, like Sieyes's nation had 'to be the 
origin of all legality', the 'fountain of justice', and thus could 
not be subject to any positive laws. This was the reason why even 
Blackstone had maintained that an 'absolute despotic power 
must in all governments reside somewhere', 37 whereby it is 
obvious that this absolute power becomes despotic once it has 
lost its connection with a higher power than itself. That Black- 
stone calls this power despotic is a clear indication of the extent 
to which the absolute monarch had cut himself loose, not from 
the political order over which he ruled, but from the divine or 
natural-law order to which he had remained subject prior to the 
modern age. Yet, if it is true that the revolutions did not 'invent' 
the perplexities of a secular political realm, it is a fact that with 
their arrival, that is, with the necessity of making new laws 
and of founding a new body politic, former 'solutions* - such as 
the hope that custom would function as a 'higher law' because 
of a 'transcendental quality* ascribed to 'it's vast antiquity', 38 or 
the belief that the exalted position of the monarch as such would 
surround the whole governmental sphere with an aura of 
sanctity, as in the often quoted appraisal of the British monarchy 
by Bagehot: 'The English monarchy strengthens our govern- 
ment with the strength of religion' - stood now revealed as facile 
expedients and subterfuges. This exposure of the dubious nature 
of government in the modern age occurred in bitter earnest only 
when and where revolutions eventually broke out. But in the 
realm of opinion and ideology it came to dominate political dis- 
cussion everywhere, to divide the discussants into radicals who 
recognized the fact of revolution without understanding its 
problems, and conservatives who clung to tradition and the past 
as to fetishes with which to ward off the future, without under- 
standing that the very emergence of revolution on the political 
scene as event or as threat had demonstrated in actual fact that 
this tradition had lost its anchorage, its beginning and principle, 
and was cut adrift. 

Sieves, who, in the field of theory, had no peer among the 
men of the French Revolution, broke the vicious circle, and the 
petitio principii of which he spoke so eloquently, first by draw- 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 163 

ing his famous distinction between a pouvoir constituent and a 
pouvoir constitue and, second, by putting the pouvoir constituant, 
that is, the nation, into a perpetual 'state of nature'. ('On doit 
concevoir les Nations sur la terre, comme des individus, hors du 
lien social . . . dans l'etat de nature'.) Thus, he seemingly solved 
both problems, the problem of the legitimacy of the new power, 
the pouvoir constituS, whose authority could not be guaranteed 
by the Constituent Assembly, the pouvoir constituant, because 
the power of the Assembly itself was not constitutional and could 
never be constitutional since it was prior to the constitution itself; 
and the problem of the legality of the new laws which needed a 
'source and supreme master', the 'higher law' from which to 
derive their validity. Both power and law were anchored in the 
nation, or rather in the will of the nation, which itself remained 
outside and above all governments and all laws. 39 The constitu- 
tional history of France, where even during the revolution con- 
stitution followed upon constitution while those in power were 
unable to enforce any of the revolutionary laws and decrees, 
could easily be read as one monotonous record illustrating again 
and again what should have been obvious from the beginning, 
namely that the so-called will of a multitude (if this is to be more 
than a legal fiction) is ever-changing by definition, and that a 
structure built on it as its foundation is built on quicksand. What 
saved the nation-state from immediate collapse and ruin was the 
extraordinary ease with which the national will could be mani- 
pulated and imposed upon whenever someone was willing to 
take the burden or the glory of dictatorship upon himself. 
Napoleon Bonaparte was only the first in a long series of national 
statesmen who, to the applause of a whole nation, could declare : 
'I am the pouvoir constituant.* However, while the dictate of 
one will achieved for short periods the nation-state's fictive ideal 
of unanimity, it was not will but interest, the solid structure of 
a class society, that bestowed upon the nation-state for the longer 
periods of its history its measure of stability. And this interest - 
the intirit du corps, in the language of Sieves, by which not 
the citizen but the individual 'allies itself only with some others' 
- was never an expression of the will but, on the contrary, the 


164 On Revolution 

manifestation of the world or rather of those parts of the world 
which certain groups, corps, or classes had in common because 
they were situated between them.* 

Theoretically, it is obvious that Sieyes's solution for the per- 
plexities of foundation, the establishment of a new law and the 
foundation of a new body politic, had not resulted and could not 
result in the establishment of a republic in the sense of 'an 
empire of laws and not of men' (Harrington), but had replaced 
monarchy, or one-man rule, with democracy, or rule by the 
majority. We find it difficult to perceive how much was at stake 
in this early shift from the republic to the democratic form 
of government because we commonly equate and confound 
majority rule with majority decision. The latter, however, is a 
technical device, likely to be adopted almost automatically in all 
types of deliberative councils and assemblies, whether these are 
the whole electorate or a town-hall meeting or small councils of 
chosen advisers to the respective rulers. In other words, the prin- 
ciple of majority is inherent in the very process of decision-mak- 
ing and thus is present in all forms of government, including 
despotism, with the possible exception only of tyranny. Only 
where the majority, after the decision has been taken, proceeds to 
liquidate politically, and in extreme cases physically, the oppos- 
ing minority does the technical device of majority decision 
degenerate into majority rule. 41 These decisions, to be sure, can 
be interpreted as expressions of will, and no one will doubt that 
under modern conditions of political equality they present and 
represent the ever-changing political life of a nation. The point 
of the matter, however, is that in the republican form of govern- 
ment such decisions are made, and this life is conducted, within 
the framework and according to the regulations of a constitution 
which, in turn, is no more the expression of a national will or 
subject to the will of a majority than a building is the expression 
of the will of its architect or subject to the will of its inhabitants. 
The great significance attributed, on both sides of the Atlantic, 
to the constitutions as written documents testifies to their 
elementary objective, worldly character perhaps more than any- 
thing else. In America, at any rate, they were framed with the 
express and conscious intention to prevent, as far as humanly 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libertatis 165 

possible, the procedures of majority decisions from generating 
into the 'elective despotism* of majority rule. 43 

The great and fateful misfortune of the French Revolution 
was that none of the constituent assemblies could command 
enough authority to lay down the law of the land; the reproach 
rightly levelled against them was always the same : they lacked 
the power to constitute by definition; they themselves were un- 
constitutional. Theoretically, the fateful blunder of the men of 
the French Revolution consisted in their almost automatic, un- 
critical belief that power and law spring from the selfsame 
source. Conversely, the great good fortune of the American 
Revolution was that the people of the colonies, prior to their 
conflict with England, were organized in self-governing bodies, 
that the revolution - to speak the language of the eighteenth 
century - did not throw them into a state of nature,* 3 that there 
never was any serious questioning of the pouvoir constituant of 
those who framed the state constitutions and, eventually, the 
Constitution of the United States. What Madison proposed with 
respect to the American Constitution, namely, to derive its 
'general authority . . . entirely from the subordinate authorities', 4 * 
repeated only on a national scale what had been done by the 
colonies themselves when they constituted their state govern- 
ments. The delegates to the provincial congresses or popular 
conventions which drafted the constitutions for state govern- 
ments had derived their authority from a number of subordinate, 
duly authorized bodies - districts, counties, townships; to pre- 
serve these bodies unimpaired in their power was to preserve the 
source of their own authority intact. Had the Federal Conven- 
tion, instead of creating and constituting the new federal power, 
chosen to curtail and abolish state powers, the founders would 
have met immediately the perplexities of their French colleagues; 
they would have lost their pouvoir constituant - and this, prob- 
ably, was one of the reasons why even the most convinced sup- 
porters of a strong central government did not want to abolish 

166 On Revolution 

the powers of state governments altogether.' 5 Not only was the 
federal system the sole alternative to the nation-state principle; it 
was also the only way not to be trapped in the vicious circle of 
pouvoir constituent and pouuoir constitute 

The astounding fact that the Declaration of Independence 
was preceded, accompanied, and followed by constitution- 
making in all thirteen colonies revealed all of a sudden to what 
an extent an entirely new concept of power and authority, an 
entirely novel idea of what was of prime importance in the 
political realm had already -developed in the New World, even 
though the inhabitants of this world spoke and thought in the 
terms of the Old World and referred to the same sources for in- 
spiration and confirmation of their theories. What was lacking 
in the Old World were the townships of the colonies, and, seen 
with the eyes of a European observer, 'the American Revolution 
broke out, and the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people came 
out of the townships and took possession of the state 1 . 46 Those 
who received the power to constitute, to frame constitutions, 
were duly elected delegates of constituted bodies; they received 
their authority from below, and when they held fast to the 
Roman principle that the seat of power lay in the people, they 
did not think in terms of a fiction and an absolute, the nation 
above all authority and absolved from all laws, but in terms of a 
working reality, the organized multitude whose power was 
exerted in accordance with laws and limited by them. The 
American revolutionary insistence on the distinction between a 
republic and a democracy or majority rule hinges on the radical 
separation of law and power, with clearly recognized different 
origins, different legitimations, and different spheres of applica- 

What the American Revolution actually did was to bring the 
new American experience and the new American concept of 
power out into the open. Like prosperity and equality of con- 
dition, this new power concept was older than the Revolution, 
but unlike the social and economic happiness of the New World 
- which would have resulted in abundance and affluence under 
almost any form of government - it would hardly have survived 
without the foundation of a new body politic, designed explicitly 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libertatis 167 

to preserve it; without revolution, in other words, the new 
power principle would have remained hidden, it might have 
fallen into oblivion or be remembered as a curiosity, of interest 
to anthropologists and local historians, but of no interest to 
statecraft and political thought. 

Power - as the men of the American Revolution understood it 
as a matter of course because it was embodied in all institutions 
of self-government throughout the country - was not only prior 
to the Revolution, it was in a sense prior to the colonization of 
the continent. The Mayflower Compact was drawn up on the 
ship and signed upon landing. For our argument, it is perhaps 
of no great relevance, though it would be interesting to know 
whether the Pilgrims had been prompted to 'covenant' because 
of the bad weather which prevented their landing farther south 
within the jurisdiction of the "Virginia Company that had 
granted them their patent, or whether they felt the need *to 
combine themselves together' because the London recruits were 
an 'undesirable lot* challenging the jurisdiction of the Virginia 
Company and threatening to 'use their owne libertieV 7 In either 
case, they obviously feared the so-called state of nature, the un- 
trod wilderness, unlimited by any boundary, as well as the 
unlimited initiative of men bound by no law. This fear is not 
surprising; it is the justified fear of civilized men who, for what- 
ever reasons, have decided to leave civilization behind them and 
strike out on their own. The really astounding fact in the whole 
story is that their obvious fear of one another was accompanied 
by the no less obvious confidence they had in their own power, 
granted and confirmed by no one and as yet unsupported by any 
means of violence, to combine themselves together into a 'civil 
Body Politick' which, held together solely by the strength of 
mutual promise 'in the Presence of God and one another*, sup- 
posedly was powerful enough to 'enact, constitute, and frame* 
all necessary laws and instruments of government. This deed 
quickly became a precedent, and when, less than twenty years 
later, colonists from Massachusetts emigrated to Connecticut, 
they framed their own 'Fundamental Orders' and 'plantation 
covenant' in a still uncharted wilderness, so that when the royal 
charter finally arrived to unite the new settlements into the 

168 On Revolution 

colony of Connecticut it sanctioned and confirmed an already 
existing system of government. And precisely because the royal 
charter of 1662 had only sanctioned the Fundamental Orders of 
1639, the self-same charter could be adopted in 1776, virtually 
unchanged, as 'the Civil Constitution of this State under the sole 
authority of the people thereof, independent of any King and 
Prince whatever'. 

Since the colonial covenants had originally been made with- 
out any reference to king or prince, it was as though the 
Revolution liberated the power of covenant and constitution- 
making as it had shown itself in the earliest days of colonization. 
The unique and all-decisive distinction between the settlements 
of North America and all other colonial enterprises was that 
only the British emigrants had insisted, from the very beginning, 
that they constitute themselves into 'civil bodies politic'. These 
bodies, moreover, were not conceived as governments, strictly 
speaking; they did not imply rule and the division of the people 
into rulers and ruled. The best proof of this is the simple fact 
that the people thus constituted could remain, for more than a 
hundred and fifty years, the royal subjects of the government of 
England. Th ese new bodies politic really were 'political societies '. 
and their great importance for the future lay in the for mation 
of a political realm that enjoyed power and was entitlecTto 
claim rights without possessing or claiming sovereignty . 48 The 
greatest revolutionary innovation, Madison's discovery of the 
federal principle for the foundation of large republics, was partly 
based upon an experience, upon the intimate knowledge of 
political bodies whose internal structure predetermined them, as 
it were, and conditioned its members for a constant enlargement 
whose principle was neither expansion nor conquest but the 
further combination of powers. For not only the basic federal 
principle of uniting separate and independently constituted 
bodies, but also the name 'confederation' in the sense of 'com- 
bination' or 'cosociation' was actually discovered in the earliest 
times of colonial history, and even the new name of the union to 
be called the United States of America was suggested by the 
short-lived New England Confederation to be 'called by the 
name of United Colonies of New England'. 49 And it was this 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 169 

experience, rather than any theory, which emboldened Madison 
to elaborate and affirm a casual remark of Montesquieu, namely 
that the republican form of government, if based upon the 
federal principle, was appropriate for large and growing terri- 
tories. 50 

John Dickinson, who once almost casually remarked, 'Ex- 
perience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us', 51 
may have been dimly aware of this unique but theoretically 
inarticulate background of the American experiment. It has been 
said that 'America's debt to the idea of the social contract is so 
huge as to defy measurement', 52 but the point of the matter is 
that the early colonists, not the men of the Revolution, 'put the 
idea into practice', and they certainly had no notion of any 
theory. On the contrary, if Locke in a famous passage states, 
'That which begins and actually constitutes any political society 
is nothing but the consent of any number of freemen capable of 
majority, to unite and incorporate into such society,' and then 
calls this act the 'beginning to any lawful government in the 
world', it rather looks as though he was more influenced by the 
facts and events in America, and perhaps in a more decisive 
manner, than the founders were influenced by his Treatises of 
Civil Government.® The proof of the matter - if proof in such 
matters can exist at all - lies in the curious and, as it were, in- 
nocent way in which Locke construed this 'original compact', in 
line with the current social-contract theory, as a surrender of 
rights and powers to either the government or the community, 
that is, not at all as a 'mutual' contract but as an agreement in 
which an individual person resigns his power to some higher 
authority and consents to be ruled in exchange for a reasonable 
protection of his life and property. 54 

Before we proceed, we must recall that in theory the seven- 
teenth century clearly distinguished between two kinds of 'social 
contract'. One was concluded between individual persons and 
supposedly gave birth to society; the other was concluded be- 
tween a people and its ruler and supposedly resulted in legiti- 
mate government. However, the decisive differences between 
these two kinds (which have hardly more in common than a 
commonly shared and misleading name) were early neglected 

170 On Revolution 

because the theorists themselves were primarily interested in 
finding a universal theory covering all forms of public relation- 
ships, social as well as political, and all kinds of obligations; 
hence, the two possible alternatives of 'social contract', which, 
as we shall sec, actually are mutually exclusive, were seen, with 
more or less conceptual clarity, as aspects of a single twofold 
contract. In theory, moreover, both contracts were fictions, the 
fictitious explanations of existing relationships between the mem- 
bers of a community called society, or between this society and its 
government; and while the history of the theoretical fictions can 
be traced back deep into the past, there had been no instance, 
prior to the colonial enterprise of the British people, when even 
a remote possibility of testing their validity in actual fact had 
presented itself. 

Schematically, the chief differences between these two kinds 
of social contract may be enumerated as follows: The mutual 
contract by which people bind themselves together in order to 
form a community is based on reciprocity and presupposes 
equality; its actual content is a promise, and its result is indeed 
a 'society' or 'cosociation' in the old Roman sense of societas y 
which means alliance. Such an alliance gathers together the iso- 
lated strength of the allied partners and binds them into a new 
power structure by virtue of 'free and sincere promises'. 55 In the 
so-called social contract between a given society and its ruler, on 
the other hand, we deal with a fictitious, aboriginal act on the 
side of each member, by virtue of which he gives up his isolated 
strength and power to constitute a government; far from gaining 
a new power, and possibly more than he had before, he resigns 
his power such as it is, and far from binding himself through 
promises, he merely expresses his 'consent' to be ruled by the 
government, whose power consists of the sum total of forces 
which all individual persons have channelled into it and 
which are monopolized by the government for the alleged benefit 
of all subjects. As far as the individual person is concerned, it is 
obvious that he gains as much power by the system of mutual 
promises as he loses by his consent to a monopoly of power in 
the ruler. Conversely, those who 'covenant and combine them- 
selves together' lose, by virtue of reciprocation, their isolation, 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 171 

while in the other instance it is precisely their isolation which is 
safeguarded and protected. 

Whereas the act of consent, accomplished by each individual 
person in his isolation, stands indeed only 'in the Presence of 
God', the act of mutual promise is by definition enacted 'in the 
presence of one another'; it is in principle independent of 
religious sanction. Moreover, a body politic which is the result 
of covenant and 'combination* becomes the very source of power 
for each individual person who outside the constituted political 
realm remains impotent; the government which, on the con- 
trary, is the result of consent acquires a monopoly of power so 
that the governed are politically impotent so long as they do not 
decide to recover their original power in order to change the 
government and entrust another ruler with their power. 

In other words, the mutual contract where power is con- 
stituted by means of promise contains in nuce both the republi- 
can principle, according to which power resides in the people, 
and where a 'mutual subjection' makes of rulership an absurdity 
- 'if the people be governors, who shall be governed?' 56 - and the 
federal principle, the principle of 'a Commonwealth for increase* 
(as Harrington called his Utopian Oceana), according to which 
constituted political bodies can combine and enter into lasting 
alliances without losing their identity. It is equally obvious that 
the social contract which demands the resignation of power to 
the government and the consent to its rule contains in nuce both 
the principle of absolute rulership, of an absolute monopoly of 
power 'to overawe them all (Hobbes) (which, incidentally, is 
liable to be construed in the image of divine power, since only 
God is omnipotent), and the national principle according to 
which there must be one representative of the nation as a whole, 
and where the government is understood to incorporate the will 
of all nationals. 

'In the beginning', Locke once remarked, 'all the world was 
America.' For all practical purposes, America should have pre- 
sented to the social-contract theories that beginning of society 
and government which they had assumed to be the fictitious con- 
dition without which the existing political realities could be 
neither explained nor justified. And the very fact that the sudden 

172 On Revolution 

rise and great variety of social-contract theories during the early 
centuries of the modern age were preceded and accompanied by 
these earliest compacts, combinations, cosociations, and con- 
federations in colonial America would indeed be very suggestive, 
if it were not for the undeniable other fact that these theories in 
the Old World proceeded without ever mentioning the actual 
realities in the New World. Nor are we entitled to assert that the 
colonists, departing from the Old World, took with them the 
wisdom of new theories, eager, as it were, for a new land in 
which to test them out and to apply them to a novel form of 
community. This eagerness for experimentation, and the con- 
comitant conviction of absolute novelty, of a not/us ordo saec- 
lorum, was conspicuously absent from the minds of the colonists, 
as it was conspicuously present in the minds of those men who 
one hundred and fifty years later were to make the Revolution. 
If there was any theoretical influence that contributed to the com- 
pacts and agreements in early American history, it was, of course, 
the Puritans* reliance on the Old Testament, and especially their 
rediscovery of the concept of the covenant of Israel, which indeed 
became for them an 'instrument to explain almost every relation 
of man to man and man to God'. But while it may be true that 
'the Puritan theory of the origin of the church in the consent of 
the believers led directly to the popular theory of the origin of 
government in the consent of the governed', 57 this could not have 
led to the other much less current theory of the origin of a 'civil 
body politic' in the mutual promise and binding of its con- 
stituents. For the Biblical covenant as the Puritans understood it 
was a compact between God and Israel by virtue of which God 
gave the law and Israel consented to keep it, and while this 
covenant implied government by consent, it implied by no 
means a political body in which rulers and ruled would be equal, 
that is, where actually the whole principle of rulership no longer 
applied. 58 

Once we turn from these theories and speculations about in- 
fluences to the documents themselves and their simple, un- 
cluttered, and often awkward language, we see immediately 
that it is an event rather than a theory or a tradition we are con- 
fronted with, an event of the greatest magnitude and the greatest 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis xfo 

import for the future, enacted on the spur of time and circum- 
stances, and yet thought out and considered with the greatest 
care and circumspection. What prompted the colonists 'solemnly 
and mutually in the Presence of God and one another, [to] 
covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body 
Politick ... ; and by virtue hereof [to] enact, constitute, and 
frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitu- 
tions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most 
meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto 
which we promise all due Submission and Obedience' (as the 
Mayflower Compact has it), were the 'difficulties and discourage- 
ments which in all probabilities must be forecast upon the 
execution of this business'. Clearly the colonists, even before 
embarking, had rightly and thoroughly considered 'that this 
whole adventure growes upon the* joint confidence we have in 
each others fidelity and resolution herein, so as no man of us 
would have adventured it without assurance of the rest'. Noth- 
ing but the simple and obvious insight into the elementary 
structure of joint enterprise as such, the need 'for the better en- 
couragement of ourselves and others that shall joyne with us in 
this action', caused these men to become obsessed with the 
notion of compact and prompted them again and again 'to 
promise and bind' themselves to one another. 59 No theory, 
theological or political or philosophical, but their own decision 
to leave the Old World behind and to venture forth into an 
enterprise entirely of their own led into a sequence of acts and 
occurrences in which they would have perished, had they not 
turned their minds to the matter long and intensely enough to 
discover, almost by inadvertence, the elementary grammar of 
political action and its more complicated syntax, whose rules 
determine the rise and fall of human power. Neither grammar 
nor syntax was something altogether new in the history of 
Western civilization; but to find experiences of equal import in 
the political realm and to read a language of equal authenticity 
and originality - namely, so incredibly free of conventional 
idioms and set formulas - in the huge arsenal of historical docu- 
ments, one might have to go back into a very distant past indeed, 
a past, at any rate, of which the settlers were totally ignorant. 60 

174 ® n Revolution 

What they discovered, to be sure, was no theory of social con- 
tract in either of its two forms, but rather the few elementary 
truths on which this theory rests. 

For our purpose in general, and our attempt to determine 
with some measure of certainty the essential character of the 
revolutionary spirit in particular, it may be worth while to pause 
here long enough to translate, however tentatively, the gist of 
these pre-revolutionary and even pre-colonial experiences into 
the less direct but more articulate language of political thought. 
We then may say that the specifically American experience had 
taught the men of the Revolution that action, though it may be 
started in isolation and decided upon by single individuals for 
very different motives, can be accomplished only by some joint 
effort in which the motivation of single individuals - for in- 
stance, whether or not they are an 'undesirable lot 1 - no longer 
counts, so that homogeneity of past and origin, the decisive prin- 
ciple of the nation-state, is not required. The joint effort 
equalizes very effectively the differences in origin as well as in 
quality. Here, moreover, we may find the root of the surprising 
so-called realism of the Founding Fathers with respect to human 
nature. They could afford to ignore the French revolutionary 
proposition that man is good outside society, in some fictitious 
original state, which, after all, was the proposition of the Age of 
Enlightenment. They could afford to be realistic and even pes- 
simistic in this matter because they knew that whatever men 
might be in their singularity, they could bind themselves into a 
community which, even though it was composed of 'sinners', 
need not necessarily reflect this 'sinful' side of human nature. 
Hence, the same social state which to their French colleagues 
had become the root of all human evil was to them the only 
reasonable life for a salvation fro m evil and wickedness at which 
men might arrive even in this world and even by themselves, 
without any divine assistance. Here, incidentally, we may also 
see the authentic source of the much misunderstood American 
version of the then current belief in the perfectibility of man. 
Before American common philosophy fell prey to Rousseauan 
notions in these matters - and this did not happen prior to the 
nineteenth century - American faith was not at all based on a 

Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 175 

semi-religious trust in human nature, but on the contrary, on the 
possibility of checking human nature in its singularity by virtue 
of common bonds and mutual promises. The hope for man in 
his singularity lay in the fact that not man but men inhabit the 
earth and form a world between them. It is human worldliness 
that will save men from the pitfalls of human nature. And the 
strongest argument, therefore, John Adams could muster against 
a body politic dominated by a single assembly was that it was 
'liable to all the vices, follies and frailties of an individual'. 61 

Closely connected with this is an insight into the nature of 
human power. In distinction to strength, which is the gift and 
the possession of every man in his isolation against all other 
men, power comes into being only if and when men join them- 
selves together for the purpose of action, and it will disappear 
when, for whatever reason, they disperse and desert one another. 
Hence, binding and promising, combining and covenanting are 
the means by which power is kept in existence; where and when 
men succeed in keeping intact the power which sprang up 
between them during the course of any particular act or deed, 
they are already in the process of foundation, of constituting a 
stable worldly structure to house, as it were, their combined 
power of action. There is an element of the world-buildin g 
capacit y of man in th^ hum an faculty of making and keeping 
promises. J ust as promises and agreements deal with the future 
and provide stability in the ocean of future uncertainty where 
the unpredictable may break in from all sides, so the constituting, 
founding, and world-building capacities of man concern always 
not so much ourselves and our own time on earth as our 'suc- 
cessor', and 'posterities'. The grammar of action : that action is 
the only human faculty that demands a plurality of men; and the 
syntax of power : that power is the only human attribute which 
applies solely to the worldly in-between space by which men are 
mutually related, combine in the act of foundation by virtue of 
the making and the keeping of promises, which, in the realm of 
politics, may well be the highest human faculty. 

In other words, what had happened in colonial America prior 
to the Revolution (and what had happened in no other part of 
the world, neither in the old countries nor in the new colonies) 

176 On Revolution 

was, theoretically speaking, that action had led to the formation 
of power and that power was kept in existence by the then newly 
discovered means of promise and covenant. The force of this 
power, engendered by action and kept by promises, came to the 
fore when, to the great surprise of all the great powers, the 
colonies, namely, the townships and provinces, the counties and 
cities, their numerous differences amongst themselves notwith- 
standing, won the war against England. But this victory was a 
surprise only for the Old World; the colonists themselves, with a 
hundred and fifty years of covenant-making behind them, rising 
out of a country which was articulated from top to bottom - 
from provinces or states down to cities and districts, townships, 
villages, and counties - into duly constituted bodies, each a com- 
monwealth of its own, with representatives 'freely chosen by the » 
consent of loving friends and neighbours', 62 each, moreover, 
designed 'for increase' as it rested on the mutual promises of 
those who were 'cohabiting' and who, when they 'conioyned 
[them] selves to be as one Publike State or Commonwealth', had 
planned not only for their 'successors' but even for 'such as shall 
be adioyned to [them] att any tyme hereafter' 63 - the men who 
out of the uninterrupted strength of this tradition 'bid a final 
adieu to Britain' knew their chances from the beginning; they 
knew of the enormous power potential that arises when men 
'mutually pledge to each other [their] lives, [their] Fortunes 
and their sacred Honour'. 64 

This was the experience that guided the men of the Revolu- 
tion; it had taught not only them but the people who had dele- 
gated and *so betrusted' them, how to establish, and found public 
bodies, and as such it was without parallel in any other part 
of the world. The same, however, is by no means true of their 
reason, or rather reasoning, of which Dickinson rightly feared 
that it might mislead them. Their reason, indeed, both in style 
and content was formed by the Age of Enlightenment as it had 
spread to both sides of the Atlantic; they argued in the same 
terms as their French or English colleagues, and even their dis- 
agreements were by and large still' discussed within the frame- 
work of commonly shared references and concepts. Thus, Jeffer- 
son could speak of the consent by the people from which govern- 

Foundation 1: Constitutio Libertatis 177 

ments 'derive their just powers' in the same Declaration which he 
closes on the principle of mutual pledges, and neither he nor 
anybody else became aware of the simple and elementary differ- 
ence between 'consent 1 and mutual promise, or between the two 
types of social-contract theory. This lack of conceptual clarity 
and precision with respect to existing realities and experiences 
has been the curse of Western history ever since, in the after- 
math of the Periclean Age, the men of action and the men of 
thought parted company and thinking began to emancipate 
itself altogether from reality, and especially from political 
factuality and experience. The great hope of the modern age and 
the modern age's revolution has been, from the beginning, that 
this rift might be healed; one of the reasons why this hope thus 
far has not been fulfilled, why, in the words of Tocqueville, not 
even the New World could bring- forth a new political science, 
lies in the enormous strength and resiliency of our tradition of 
thought, which has withstood all the reversals and transforma- 
tion of values through which the thinkers of the nineteenth 
century tried to undermine and to destroy it. 

However that may be, the fact of the matter, as it relates to 
the American Revolution, was that experience had taught the 
colonists that royal and company charters confirmed and legal- 
ized rather than established and founded their 'commonwealth', 
that they were 'subject to the laws which they adopted at their 
first settlement, and to such others as have been since made by 
their respective Legislatures', and that such liberties were 'con- 
firmed by the political constitutions they have respectively as- 
sumed, and also by several charters of compact from the 
Crown.* 65 It is true, 'the colonial theorists wrote much about the 
British constitution, the rights of Englishmen, and even of the 
laws of nature, but they accepted the British assumption that 
colonial governments derived from British charters and com- 
missions.' 66 Yet the essential point even in these theories was the 
curious interpretation, or rather misinterpretation, of the British 
constitution as a fundamental law which could limit the legis- 
lative powers of Parliament. This, clearly, meant understand- 
ing the British constitution in the light of American compacts 
and agreements, which indeed were such 'fundamental Law', 

178 On Revolution 

such 'fixed* authority, the 'bounds 1 of which even the supreme 
legislature might not 'overleap . . . without destroying its own 
foundation*. It was precisely because the Americans so firmly 
believed in their own compacts and agreements that they would 
appeal to a British constitution and their 'constitutional Right*, 
'exclusion of any Consideration of Charter Rights*; whereby it 
is even relatively unimportant that they, following the fashion 
of the time, asserted this to be an 'unalterable Right, in nature*, 
since, to them at least, this right had become law only because 
they thought it to be 'ungrafted into the British Constitution, 
as a fundamental Law*. 67 

And again, experience had taught the colonists enough about 
the nature of human power to conclude from the by no means 
intolerable abuses of power by a particular king that kingship 
as such is a form of government fit for slaves, and that 'an 
American republic ... is the only government which we wish 
to see established; for we can never be willingly subject to any 
other King than he who, being possessed of infinite wisdom, 
goodness and rectitude, is alone fit to possess unlimited power* ; a 
but the colonial theorists were still debating at length the ad- 
vantages and disadvantages of the various forms of government 
- as though there were any choice in this matter. Finally, it was 
experience — 'the unified wisdom of North America ... col- 
lected in a general congress' 69 - rather than theory or learning, 
that taught the men of the Revolution the real meaning of the 
Roman potcstas in populo, that power resides in the people. They 
knew that the principle of potestas in populo is capable of 
inspiring a form of government only if one adds, as the Romans 
did, auctoritas in senatu, authority resides in the senate, so that 
government itself consists of both power and authority, or, as 
the Romans had it, senatus populusquc Roman us. What the 
royal charters and the loyal attachment of the colonies to. king 
and Parliament in England had done for the people in America 
was to provide their power with the additional weight of 
authority; so that the chief problem of the American Revolu- 
tion, once this source of authority had been severed from the 
colonial body politic in the New World, turned out to be the 1 
establishment and foundation not of power but of authority. 


Foundation II: 
Novus Ordo Saeclorurn 

Magnus ab Integra saeclorurn nascitur ordo. -Virgil 

Power and authority arc no more the same than are power 
and violence. We have hinted alfeady at the latter distinction, 
which, however, we now must recall once more. The relevance 
of these differences and distinctions becomes especially striking 
when we consider the enormously and disastrously different 
actual outcomes of the one tenet the men of the two eighteenth- 
century revolutions held in common : the conviction that source 
and origin of legitimate political power resides in the people. For 
the agreement was in appearance only. The people in France, le 
peuple in the sense of the Revolution, were neither organized 
nor constituted; whatever 'constituted bodies* existed iin the Old 
World, diets and parliaments, orders and estates, rested on privi- 
lege, birth, and occupation. They represented particular private 
interests but left the public concern to the monarch, who, in 
an enlightened despotism, was supposed to act as *a single 
enlightened person against many private interests', 1 whereby 
it was understood that in a 'limited monarchy* these bodies had 
the right to voice grievances and to withhold consent. None of 
the European parliaments was a legislative body; they had at best 
the right to say 'yes' or 'no'; the initiative, however, or the 
right to act did not rest with them. No doubt the initial slogan 
of the American Revolution, 'No taxation without representa- 
tion', still belonged in this sphere of 'limited monarchy* whose 
fundamental principle was consent of the subjects. We have 
difficulties today in perceiving the great potency of this prin- 

180 On Revolution 

ciple because the intimate connection of property and freedom 
is for us no longer a matter of course. To the eighteenth cen- 
tury, as to the seventeenth before it and the nineteenth after it, 
the function of laws was not primarily to guarantee liberties but 
to protect property; it was property, and not the law as such, 
that guaranteed freedom. Not before the twentieth century were 
people exposed directly and without any personal protection to 
the pressures of either state or society; and only when people 
emerged who were free without owning property to protect their 
liberties were laws necessary to protect persons and personal 
freedom directly, instead of merely protecting their properties. 
In the eighteenth century, however, and especially in the Eng- 
lish-speaking countries, property and freedom still coincided; 
who said property, said freedom, and to recover or defend one's 
property rights was the same as to fight for freedom. It was pre- 
cisely in their attempt to recover such 'ancient liberties' that the 
American Revolution and the French Revolution had their most 
conspicuous similarities. 

The reason why the conflict between king and parliament in 
France resulted in such an altogether different outcome from 
the conflict between the American constituted bodies and the 
government in England lies exclusively in the totally different 
nature of these constituted bodies. The rupture between king 
and parliament indeed threw the whole French nation into a 
'state of nature'; it dissolved automatically the political structure 
of the country as well as the bonds among its inhabitants, 
which had rested not on mutual promises but on the various 
privileges accorded to each order and estate of society. Strictly 
speaking, there were no constituted bodies in any part of the 
Old World. The constituted body itself was already an innova- 
tion born out of the necessities and the ingeniousness of those 
Europeans who had decided to leave the Old World not only 
in order to colonize a new continent but also for the purpose 
of establishing a new world order. The conflict of the colonies 
with- king and Parliament in England dissolved nothing more 
than the charters granted the colonists and those privileges they 
enjoyed by virtue of being Englishmen; it deprived the country 
of its governors, but not of its legislative assemblies, and the 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 181 

people, while renouncing their allegiance to a king, felt by no 
means released from their own numerous compacts, agreements, 
mutual promises, and 'cosociations'. 2 

Hence, when the men of the French Revolution said that all 
power resides in the people, they understood by power a 'nat- 
ural' force whose source and origin lay outside the political 
realm, a force which in its very violence had been released by 
the revolution and like a hurricane had swept away all institu- 
tions of the ancien rSgime. This force was experienced as super- 
human in its strength, and it was seen as the result of the 
accumulated violence of a multitude outside all bonds and all 
political organization. The experiences of the French Revolution 
with a people thrown into a 'state of nature' left no doubt that 
the multiplied strength of a multitude could burst forth, under 
the pressure of misfortune, with a violence which no institution- 
alized and controlled power could withstand. But these experi- 
ences also taught that, contrary to all theories, no such multi- 
plication would ever give birth to power, that strength and 
violence in their pre-political state were abortive. The men of 
the French Revolution, not knowing how to distinguish be- 
tween violence and power, and convinced that all power must 
come from the people, opened the political realm to this pre- 
political, natural force of the multitude and they were swept 
away by it, as the king and the old powers had been swept away 
before. The men of the American Revolution, on the contrary, I bo /Jju^- 
understood by power the very opposite of a pre-political natural | 
violence. To them, power came into being when and where' 
people would get together and bind themselves through 
promises, covenants, and mutual pledges; only such power* 
which rested on reciprocity and mutuality, was real power and 
legitimate, whereas the so-called power of kings or princes or 
aristocrats, because it did not spring from mutuality but, at best, 
rested only on consent, was spurious and usurped. They them- 
selves still knew very well what made them succeed where all 
other nations were to fail; it was, in the words of John Adams, 
the power of 'confidence in one another, and in the common 
people, which enabled the United States to go through a revolu- 
tion.' 3 This confidence moreover, arose not from a common 

1 82 On Revolution 

ideology but from mutual promises and as such became the 
basis for 'associations' - the gathering-together of people for a 
specified political purpose. It is a melancholy thing to say (but 
I am afraid it contains a good measure of truth) that this notion 
of 'confidence in one another' as a principle of organized action 
has been present in other parts of the world only in conspiracy 
and in societies of conspirators. 

However, while power, rooted in a people that had bound 
itself by mutual promises and lived in bodies constituted by 
compact, was enough 'to go through a revolution' (without un- 
leashing the boundless violence of the multitudes), it was by no 
means enough to establish a 'perpetual union', that is, to found 
a new authority. Neither compact nor promise upon which 
compacts rest are sufficient to assure perpetuity, that is, to 
bestow upon the affairs of men that measure of stability without 
which they would be unable to build a world for their posterity, 
destined and designed to outlast their own mortal lives. For the 
men of the Revolution, who prided themselves on founding re- 
publics, that is, governments 'of law and not of men', the prob- 
lem of authority arose in the guise of the so-called 'higher law* 
which would give sanction to positive, posited laws. No doubt, 
the laws owed their factual existence to the power of the people 
and their representatives in the legislatures; but these men could 
not at the same time represent the higher source from which 
these laws had to be derived in order to be authoritative and 
valid for all, the majorities and the minorities, the present and 
the future generations. Hence, the very task of laying down a 
new law of the land, which was to incorporate for future gener- 
ations the 'higher law' that bestows validity on all man-made 
laws, brought to the fore, in America no less than in France, the 
need for an absolute, and the only reason why this need did not 
lead the men of the American Revolution into the same absurdi- 
ties into which it led those of the French Revolution, and par- 
ticularly Robespierre himself, was that the former distinguished 
clearly and unequivocally between the origin of power, which 
springs from below, the 'grass roots' of the people, and the 
source of law, who seat is 'above', in some higher and trans- 
cendent region. 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 183 

Theoretically, the deification of the people in the French 
Revolution was the inevitable consequence of the attempt to 
derive both law and power from the selfsame source. The 
claim of absolute kingship to rest on 'divine rights' had con- 
strued secular rulership in the image of a god who is both 
omnipotent and legislator of the universe, that is, in the image 
of the God whose Will is Law. The 'general will' of Rousseau 
or Robespierre is still this divine Will which needs only to will 
in order to produce a law. Historically, there is no more momen- 
tous difference of principle between the American and the 
French Revolutions than that the latter unanimously held that 
'law is the expression of the General Will' (as Article VI of the 
Declaration des Droits de X Homme et du Citoyen of 1789 has 
it), a formulation for which one may look in vain in either the 
Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United 
States. Practically, as we saw before, it turned out that it was 
not even the people and its 'general will' but the very process 
of the Revolution itself which became the source of all 'laws', a 
source which relentlessly produced new 'laws', namely, decrees 
and ordinances, which were obsolete the very moment they 
were issued, swept away by the Higher Law of the Revolution 
which had just given birth to them. 'Une loi revolutionnaire,* 
said Condorcet, summing up almost four years of revolutionary 
experience, 'est une loi qui a pour objet de maintenir cette 
revolution, et d'en accelerer ou regler la marche.' ('A revolution- 
ary law is a law whose object is to maintain the revolution and 
to accelerate or regulate its course.')* It is true, Condorcet also 
voiced the hope that the revolutionary law, by accelerating the 
course of revolution, would usher in the day when the revolu- 
tion would be 'completed', that it would even 'precipitate its 
terminal end*; but this hope was in vain. In theory as in prac- 
tice, only a counter-movement, a contrer evolution, could stop a 
revolutionary process which had become a law unto itself. 

'The great problem in politics, which I compare to the 
problem of squaring the circle in geometry ... [is] : How to 
find a form of government which puts the law above man.' 5 
Theoretically, Rousseau's problem closely resembles Sieyes's 
vicious circle: those who get together to constitute a new 

184 On Revolution 

government are themselves unconstitutional, that is, they have 
no authority to do what they have set out to achieve. The vicious 
circle in legislating is present not in ordinary lawmaking, but in 
laying down the fundamental law, the law of the land or the 
constitution which, from then on, is supposed to incarnate the 
'higher law 1 from which all laws ultimately derive their author- 
ity. And with this problem, which appeared as the urgent need 
for some absolute, the men of the American Revolution found 
themselves no less confronted than their colleagues in France. 
The trouble was - to quote Rouseau once more - that to put the 
law above man and thus to establish the validity of man-made 
laws, // faudrait des dieux, 'one actually would need gods'. 

The need for gods in the body politic of a republic appeared 
in the course of the French Revolution in Robespierre's desperate 
attempt at founding an entirely new cult, the cult of a Supreme 
Being. At the time Robespierre made his proposal, it seemed 
as though the cult's chief function was to arrest the Revolution, 
which had run amok. As such, the great festival - this wretched 
and foredoomed substitute for the constitution which the Revo- 
lution had been unable to produce - failed utterly; the new god, 
it turned out, was not even powerful enough to inspire the 
proclamation of a general amnesty and to show a minimum of 
clemency, let alone mercy. The ridiculousness of the enterprise 
was such that it must have been manifest to those who attended 
the initiating ceremonies as it was to later generations; even then 
it must have looked as though 'the god of the philosophers' 
upon whom Luther and Pascal had vented their contempt had 
finally decided to disclose himself in the guise of a circus clown. 
If confirmation were needed that the revolutions of the modern 
age, their occasional deistic language notwithstanding, presup- 
pose not the breakdown of religious beliefs as such, but certainly 
their utter loss of relevance in the political realm, Robespierre's 
cult of the Supreme Being would be enough. Yet even Robes- 
pierre, whose lack of sense of humour was notorious, might 
have shirked this ridicule, had not his need been so desperate. 
For what he needed was by no means just a 'Supreme Being' - 
a term which was not his - he needed rather what he himself 
called an 'Immortal Legislator* and what, in a different context, 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 185 

he also named a 'continuous appeal to Justice'. 6 In terms of the 
French Revolution, he needed an ever-present transcendent 
source of authority that could not be identified with the general 
will of either the nation or the Revolution itself, so that an 
absolute Sovereignty - Blackstone's 'despotic power* - might 
bestow sovereignty upon the nation, that an absolute Immor- 
tality might guarantee, if not immortality, then at least some 
permanence and stability to the republic, and, finally, that some 
absolute Authority might function as the fountainhead of jus- 
tice from which the laws of the new body politic could derive 
their legitimacy. 

It was the American Revolution which demonstrated that of 
these three needs the need for an Immortal Legislator was the 
most urgent and the one which was least predetermined by the 
particular historical conditions of the French nation. For we may 
lose all desire to laugh at the circus clown when we find the 
same notions, stripped of all ridicule, in John Adams, who also 
demanded worship of a Supreme Being which he, too, called 
'the great Legislator of the Universe,' 7 or when we recall the 
solemnity with which Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independ- 
ence, appealed to 'the laws of nature and nature's God'. More- 
over, the need for a divine principle, for some transcendent 
sanction in the political realm, as well as the curious fact that 
this need would be felt most strongly in case of a revolution, 
that is, when a new body politic had to be established, had been 
clearly anticipated by nearly all theoretical forerunners of the 
revolutions - with the sole exception, perhaps, of Montesquieu. 
Thus even Locke, who so firmly believed that 'a principle of 
action [has been planted in man] by God himself (so that men 
would have only to follow the voice of a God-given conscience 
within themselves, without any special recourse to the transcen- 
dent planter), was convinced that only an 'appeal to God in 
Heaven' could help those who came out of the 'state of nature' 
and were about to lay down the fundamental law of a civil 
society. 8 Hence, in theory as in practice, we can hardly avoid 
the paradoxical fact that it was precisely the revolutions, their 
crisis and their emergency, which drove the very 'enlightened' 
men of the eighteenth century to plead for some religious sane- 

1 86 On Revolution 

tion at the very moment when they were about to emancipate the 
secular realm fully from the influences of the churches and to 
separate politics and religion once and for all. 

In order to gain a more precise understanding of the nature 
of the problem involved in this need for an absolute, it may be 
well to remind ourselves that neither Roman nor Greek anti- 
quity was ever perplexed by it. It is all the more noteworthy 
that John Adams - who even before the outbreak of the Revolu- 
tion had insisted on 'rights antecedent to all earthly govern- 
ment . . . derived from the great Legislator of the universe' and 
who then became instrumental in 'retaining and insisting on 
[the law of nature] as a recourse to which we might be driven 
by Parliament much sooner than we were aware' 9 — should have 
believed that 'it was the general opinion of ancient nations 
that the Divinity alone was adequate to the important office of 
giving laws to men.' 10 For the point of the matter is that Adams 
was in error, and that neither the Greek vouoc, nor the Roman 
lex was of divine origin, that neither the Greek nor the Roman 
concept of legislation needed divine inspiration. 11 The very 
notion of divine legislation implies that the legislator must be 
outside of and above his own laws, but in antiquity it was not 
the sign of a god but the characteristic of the tyrant to impose 
on the people laws by which he himself would not be bound. 12 
It is true, though, that in Greece it was held that the lawgiver 
came from outside the community, that he could be a stranger 
and be called from abroad; but this meant no more than that 
laying down the law was pre-political, prior to the existence of 
the polis, the city-state, just as building the walls around the 
city was prior to the coming into existence of the city itself. The 
Greek legislator was outside the body politic, but he was not 
above it and he was not divine. The very word v6uo$, which, 
apart from its etymological significance, receives its full mean- 
ing as the opposite of (puaic, or things that are natural, stresses 
the 'artificial', conventional, man-made nature of the laws. 
Moreover, although the word vouog came to assume different 
meanings throughout the centuries of Greek civilization, it never 
lost its original 'spatial significance' altogether, namely, 'the 
notion of a range or province, within which defined power may 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 187 

be legitimately exercised*. 13 Obviously, no idea of a 'higher law* 
could possibly make sense with respect to this v6(iog, and even 
Plato's laws are not derived from a 'higher law' which would 
not only determine their usefulness but constitute their very 
legality and validity. 14 The only trace we find of this notion of 
the Legislator's role and status with respect to the body politic 
in the history of revolutions and a modern foundation seems to 
be Robespierre's famous proposal that the 'members of the Con- 
stituent Assembly engage themselves formally to leave to others 
the care for building the temple of Liberty whose foundations 
they have thrown; that they disqualify themselves gloriously for 
the next election.' And the actual source of Robespierre's sug- 
gestion has been so little known in modern times 'that his- 
torians have suggested all kinds of ulterior motives for [his] 
action'. 15 

Roman law, although almost totally different from the Greek 
vouoc,, still needed no transcendent source of authority, and if 
the act of legislation needed help from the gods - the nodding 
affirmation with which, according to Roman religion, the gods 
approve of decisions made by human beings - it needed it no 
more than other important political acts. Unlike the Greek 
v6uoc,, the Roman lex was not coeval with the foundation of 
the city, and Roman legislation was not a pre-political activity. 
The original meaning of the word lex is 'intimate connection' 
or relationship, namely something which connects two things or 
two partners whom external circumstances have brought to- 
gether. Therefore, the existence of a people in the sense of an 
ethnic, tribal, organic unity is quite independent of all laws. The 
natives of Italy, we are told by Virgil, were 'Saturn's people 
whom no laws fettered to justice, upright of their own free will 
and following the custom of the gods of old'. 16 Only after Aeneas 
and his warriors had arrived from Troy, and a war had broken 
out between the invaders and the natives, were 'laws' felt to be 
necessary. These 'laws' were more than the means to re- 
establish peace; they were treaties and agreements with which a 
new alliance, a new unity, was constituted, the unity of two 
altogether different entities which the war had thrown together 
and which now entered into a partnership. As to the Romans, 

188 On Revolution 

the end of war was not simply defeat of the enemy or the 
establishment of peace; a war was concluded to their satisfaction 
only when the former enemies became 'friends' and allies (socit) 
of Rome. The ambition of Rome was not to subject the whole 
world to Roman power and imperium, but to throw the Roman 
system of alliances over all countries of the earth. And this was 
not a mere fantasy of the poet. The people of Rome itself, the 
populus Romanus, owed its existence to such a war-born partner- 
ship, namely, to the alliance between patricians and plebeians, 
whose internal civil strife was concluded through the famous 
laws of the Twelve Tables. And even this oldest and proudest 
document of their history the Romans did not think to be in- 
spired by the gods; they preferred to believe that Rome had 
sent a commission to Greece in order to study there different 
systems of legislation. 17 Hence the Roman Republic, resting it- 
self upon the perpetual alliance between patricians and plebeians, 
used the instrument of leges chiefly for treaties and for ruling 
the provinces and communities which belonged to the Roman 
system of alliances, that is, to the ever-extending group of 
Roman socii who formed the societas Romana. 

I have mentioned that among the pre-revolutionary theorists 
only Montesquieu never thought it necessary to introduce an 
absolute, a divine or despotic power, into the political realm. 
This is closely connected with the fact that, as far as I know, 
only Montesquieu ever used the word 'law' in its old, stricdy 
Roman sense, defining it in the very first chapter of the Esprit 
des Lois, as the rapport, the relation subsisting between different 
entities. To be sure, he too assumes a 'Creator and Preserver* 
of the universe, and he too speaks of a 'state of nature 1 and of 
'natural laws*, but the rapports subsisting between the Creator 
and the creation, or between men in the state of nature, are no 
more than 'rules' or regies which determine the government of 
the world and without which a world would not exist at all. 11 
Neither religious nor natural laws, therefore, constitute for 
Montesquieu a 'higher law,' strictly speaking; they are no more 
than the relations which exist and preserve different realms of 
being. And since, for Montesquieu as for the Romans, a law 
is merely what relates two things and therefore is relative by 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 189 

definition, he needed no absolute source of authority and could 
describe the 'spirit of the laws' without ever posing the trouble- 
some question of their absolute validity. 

These historical reminiscences and reflections are to suggest 
that the whole problem of an absolute which would bestow 
validity upon positive, man-made laws was partly an inheritance 
from absolutism, which in turn had fallen heir to those long 
centuries when no secular realm existed in the Occident that 
was not ultimately rooted in the sanction given to it by the 
Church, and when therefore secular laws were understood as the 
mundane expression of a divinely ordained law. This, however, 
is only part of the story. It was of even greater importance and 
impact that the very word 'law' had assumed an altogether dif- 
ferent meaning throughout these centuries. What mattered was 
that - the enormous influence of Roman jurisprudence and legis- 
lation upon the development of medieval as well as modern legal 
systems and interpretations notwithstanding - the laws them- 
selves were understood to be commandments, that they were 
construed in accordance with the voice of God, who tells men : 
Thou shalt not. Such commandments obviously could not be 
binding without a higher, religious sanction. Onlyjo the extent 
that we understand by law a commandment to which men owe 
obedience regardless ot their consent and mutual agreements, 
does the law require a transcendent source ot authority tor its 
validity, that is, an origin which must be beyond human power. 

This, of course, is not to say that the old Jits publicum, the 
law of the land which later was called a 'constitution', or the 
ius privatum^ which then became our civil law, possesses the 
characteristics of divine commandments. But the model in 
whose image Western mankind had construed the quintessence 
of all laws, even of those whose Roman origin was beyond 
doubt, and even in juridical interpretation that used all the 
terms of Roman jurisdiction - this model was itself not Roman 
at all; it was Hebrew in origin and represented by the divine 
Commandments of the Decalogue. And the model itself did not 
change when in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 
natural law stepped into the place of divinity - into the place, 
that is, which once had been held by the Hebrew God who was 

190 On Revolution 

a lawmaker because he was the Maker of the Universe, a 
place which then had been occupied by Christ, the visible repre- 
sentative and bodily incarnation of God on earth, from whom 
then the vicars of Christ, the Roman popes and bishops as well 
as the kings who followed them, had derived their authority, 
until finally the rebellious Protestants turned to Hebrew laws 
and covenants and to the figure of Christ himself. For the 
trouble with natural law was precisely that it had no author, 
that it could only be understood as a law of nature in the sense 
of a non-personal, superhuman force which would compel men 
anyhow, no matter what they did or intended to do or omitted 
to do. In order to be a source of authority and bestow validity 
upon man-made laws, one had to add to 'the law of nature', as 
Jefferson did, 'and nature's God', whereby it is of no great 
relevance if, in the mood of the time, this god addressed his 
creatures through the voice of conscience or enlightened them 
through the light of reason rather than through the revelation 
of the Bible. The point of the matter has always been that 
natural law itself needed divine sanction to become binding for 
men. 19 

Religious sanction for man-made laws presently turned out 
to require much more than a mere theoretical construction of 
a 'higher law', more even than belief in an Immortal Legis- 
lator and worship of a Supreme Being; it required a firm belief 
in 'a future state of rewards and punishments* as the 'only true 
foundation of morality'. 20 What matters is that this was not 
only true for the French Revolution, where people or nation 
was to step into the shoes of the absolute prince and where 
Robespierre had merely 'turned the old system inside out'. 21 
(There, indeed, the notion of an 'immortal soul' which was to 
serve as a rappel continuel a la justice 22 was indispensable; it 
was the only possible, tangible bridle which could prevent the 
new sovereign, this absolute ruler who is absolved from his own 
laws, from committing criminal acts. Like the absolute prince, 
the nation, in terms of public law, could do no wrong because it 
was the new vicar of God on earth; but since, like the prince, in 
actual fact it could and was liable to do very wrong indeed, it 
too had to be exposed to the penalty which would 'be exacted 


Foundation II: Novus Or do Saeclorum 191 

by none but God the avenger* - in Bracton's telling phrase.) 
It was even truer for the American Revolution, where an explicit 
mention of a 'future state of rewards and punishments' occurs in 
all state constitutions, although we find no trace of it in either 
the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the 
United States. But from this we should not conclude that the 
drafters of state constitutions were less 'enlightened' than Jeffer- 
son or Madison. Whatever the influence of Puritanism may have 
been upon the development of an American character, the 
founders of the republic and the men of the Revolution be- 
longed to the Age of Enlightenment; they were all deists, and 
their insistence on a belief in 'future states' was oddly out of 
tune with their religious convictions. Certainly no religious 
fervour but strictly political misgivings about the enormous risks 
inherent in the secular realm of* human affairs caused them 
to turn to the only element of traditional religion whose 
political usefulness as an instrument of rule was beyond any 

We, who had ample opportunity to watch political crime on 
an unprecedented scale, committed by people who had liber- 
ated themselves from all beliefs in 'future states' and had lost the 
age-old fear of an 'avenging God', are in no position, it seems, 
to quarrel with the political wisdom of the founders. But it 
was political wisdom and not religious conviction that made 
John Adams write the following strangely prophetic words : 'Is 
there a possibility that the government of nations may fall in the 
hands of men who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds, 
that men are but fire flies, and this all is without a father? Is 
this the way to make man as man an object of respect? Or is it 
to make murder itself as indifferent as shooting plover, and the 
extermination of the Rohilla nation as innocent as the swallow- 
ing of mites on a morsel of cheese?' 23 For the same reasons, 
namely, our own experiences, we also are tempted to revise 
the current opinion that Robespierre opposed atheism because 
it happened to be a common creed among aristocrats; there is 
no reason for not believing him when he said that he found it 
impossible to understand how any legislator could ever be an 
atheist since he necessarily had to rely on a 'religious sentiment 

192 On Revolution 

which impresses upon the soul the idea of a sanction given to 
the moral precepts by a power greater than man'. 24 

Finally, and for the future of the American republic per- 
haps most importantly, the Preamble of the Declaration of 
Independence contains, in addition to the appeal to 'nature's 
God', one more sentence which relates to a transcendent source 
of authority for the laws of the new body politic; and this sen- 
tence is not out of tune with the founders' dcistic beliefs or the 
mood of enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Jefferson's 
famous words, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident', com- 
bine in a historically unique manner the basis of agreement be- 
tween those who have embarked upon revolution, an agreement 
necessarily relative because related to those who enter it, with 
an absolute, namely with a truth that needs no agreement since, 
because of its self-evidence, it compels without argumentative 
demonstration or political persuasion. By virtue of being self- 
evident, these truths are pre-rational - they inform reason but 
are not its product - and since their self-evidence puts them be- 
yond disclosure and argument, they are in a sense no less 
compelling than 'despotic power' and no less absolute than the 
revealed truths of religion or the axiomatic verities of mathe- 
matics. In Jefferson's own words these are 'the opinions and be- 
liefs of men [which] depend not on their own will, but follow 
involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds'. 25 

There is perhaps nothing surprising in that the Age of 
Enlightenment should have become aware of the compelling 
nature of axiomatic or self-evident truth, whose paradigmatic 
example, since Plato, has been the kind of statements with which 
we are confronted in mathematics. Le Mercier de la Riviere was 
perfectly right when he wrote: 'Euclide est un veritable des- 
pote et les verites geometriques qu'il nous a transmises sont 
des lois veritablement despotiques. Leur despotisme legal et le 
despotisme personnel de ce Legislateur n'en font qu'un, celui de 
la force irresistible de l'evidence'; 25 and Grotius, more than a 
hundred years earlier, had already insisted that 'even God can- 
not cause that two times two should not make four'. (Whatever 
the theological and philosophic implications of Grotius's for- 
mula might be, its political intention was clearly to bind and 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum m 

limit the sovereign will of an absolute prince who claimed to 
incarnate divine omnipotence on earth, by declaring that even 
God's power was not without limitations. This must have 
appeared of great theoretical and practical relevance to the 
political thinkers of the seventeenth century for the simple rea- 
son that divine power, being by definition the power of One, 
could appear on earth only as superhuman strength, that is, 
strength multiplied and made irresistible by the means of 
violence. In our context, it is important to note that only mathe- 
matical laws were thought to be sufficiently irresistible to check 
the power of despots.) The fallacy of this position was not only 
to equate this compelling evidence with right reason - the 
dictamen rationis or a veritable dictate of reason - but to be- 
lieve that these mathematical 'laws* were of the same nature as 
the laws of a community, or that the former could somehow 
inspire the latter. Jefferson must have been dimly aware of 
this, for otherwise he would not have indulged in the some- 
what incongruous phrase, 'We hold these truths to be self- 
evident', but would have said: These truths are self-evident, 
namely, they possess a power to compel which is as irresistible 
as despotic power, they are not held by us but we are held by 
them; they stand in no need of agreement. He knew very well 
that the statement 'All men are created equal' could not pos- 
sibly possess the same power to compel as the statement that 
two times two make four, for the former is indeed a statement 
of reason and even a reasoned statement which stands in need 
of agreement, unless one assumes that human reason is divinely 
informed to recognize certain truths as self-evident; the latter, 
on the contrary, is rooted in the physical structure of the human 
brain, and therefore is 'irresistible'. 

If we were to understand the body politic of the American 
republic solely in terms of its two greatest documents, the 
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United 
States, then the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence 
would provide the sole source of authority from which the 
Constitution, not as an act of constituting government but as 
the law of the land, derives its own legitimacy; for the Constitu- 
tion itself, in its preamble as well as in its amendments which 

194 On Revolution 

form the Bill of Rights, is singularly silent on this question of 
ultimate authority. The authority of self-evident truth may be 
less powerful than the authority of an 'avenging God 1 , but it 
certainly still bears clear signs of divine origin; such truths are, 
as Jefferson wrote in the original draft of the Declaration of 
Independence, 'sacred and undeniable'. It was not just reason 
which Jefferson promoted to the rank of the 'higher law' which 
would bestow validity on both the new law of the land and the 
old laws of morality; it was a divinely informed reason, the 
'light of reason', as the age liked to call it, and its truths also 
enlightened the conscience of men so that they would be recep- 
tive to an inner voice which still was the voice of God, and 
would reply, I will, whenever the voice of conscience told them, 
Thou shalt, and, more important, Thou shalt not. 

No doubt, there are many ways to read the historical configura- 
tion in which the troublesome problem of an absolute made its 
appearance. With respect to the Old World, we mentioned the 
continuity of a tradition which seems to lead us straight back 
to the last centuries of the Roman Empire and the first centuries 
of Christianity, when, after the 'Word became flesh', the 
incarnation of a divine absolute on earth was first represented 
by the vicars of Christ himself, by bishop and pope, who were 
succeeded by kings who claimed rulcrship by virtue of divine 
rights until, eventually, absolute monarchy was followed by the 
no less absolute sovereignty of the nation. From the weight and 
burden of this tradition the settlers of the New World had 
escaped, not when they crossed the Atlantic but when, under 
the pressure of circumstances - in fear of the new continent' s 
uncharted wildernes s and frightened by the chartlcss darkness 
of the human heart - they had constituted t hem selves int o 'civil 
bodies politic', mutually bound themselves into an enterprise 
for which no other bond existed , and thus made a new begin - 
ning in the very midst of the history of Western mankin d. In 
historical perspective, we know today what this escape signi- 

Foundation II: Novus Or do Saeclorum 195 

fied for better and worse, we know how it led America away 
from the European nation-state development, interrupting the 
original unity of an Atlantic civilization for more than a hun- 
dred years, throwing America back into the 'unstoried wilder- 
ness* of the new continent and depriving it of Europe's cultural 
grandeur. By the same token, however, and in our con- 
text most importantly, America was spared the cheapest and the 
most dangerous disguise the absolute ever assumed in the politi- 
cal realm, the disguise of the nation. Perhaps the price for this 
release, the price of 'isolation', of severance from the people's 
own roots and origins in the Old World, would not have been 
too high if the political release had also brought about a libera- 
tion from the conceptual, intellectual framework of the Western 
tradition, a liberation which, of course, should not be mistaken 
for an oblivion of the past. This obviously was not the case; the 
novelty of the New World's political development was nowhere 
matched by an adequate development of new thought. Hence, 
there was no avoiding the problem of the absolute - even 
though none of the country's institutions and constituted bodies 
could be traced back to the factual development of absolutism 
- because it proved to be inherent in the traditional concept of 
law. If the essence of secular law was a command, then a 
divinity, not nature but nature's God, not reason but a 
divinely informed reason, was needed to bestow validity on 

However, as far as the New World was concerned this was 
only theoretically so. It is true enough that the men of the 
American Revolution remained bound to the conceptual and 
intellectual framework of the European tradition and that they 
were no more capable of articulating theoretically the colonial 
experience of the tremendous strength inherent in mutual 
promises than they were ready to admit in principle, and not 
only occasionally, the intimate relationship between 'happiness* 
and action - that 'it is action, not rest, that constitutes our 
pleasure' (John Adams). Had this bondage to tradition deter- 
mined the actual destinies of the American republic to the 
same extent as it compelled the minds of the theorists, the 
authority of this new body politic in actual fact might have 

196 On Revolution 

crumbled under the onslaught of modernity - where the loss 
of religious sanction for the political realm is an accomplished 
fact - as it crumbled in all other revolutions. The fact of 
the matter is that this was not the case, and what saved the 
American Revolution from this fate was neither 'nature's God' 
nor self-evident truth, but the act of foundation itself. 

It has often been noticed that the actions of the men of the 
revolutions were inspired and guided to an extraordinary degree 
by the examples of Roman antiquity, and this is not only true for 
the French Revolution, whose agents had indeed an extra- 
ordinary flair for the theatrical; the Americans, perhaps, thought 
less of themselves in terms of ancient greatness - though Thomas 
Paine was wont to think 'what Athens was in miniature, 
America will be in magnitude' - they certainly were conscious of 
emulating ancient virtue. When Saint-Just exclaimed, 'The 
world has been empty since the Romans and is filled only with 
their memory, which is now our only prophecy of freedom', he 
was echoing John Adams, to whom 'the Roman constitution 
formed the noblest people and the greatest power that has ever 
existed', just as Paine's remark was preceded by James Wilson's 
prediction that 'the glory of America will rival - it will outshine 
the glory of Greece'. 27 I have mentioned how strange this en- 
thusiasm for the ancients actually was, how out of tune with the 
modern age, how unexpected that the men of the revolutions 
should turn to a distant past which had been so vehemently 
denounced by the scientists and the philosophers of the seven- 
teenth century. And yet, when we recall with what enthusiasm 
for 'ancient prudence' Cromwell's short dictatorship had been 
greeted even in the seventeenth century by Harrington and 
Milton, and with what unerring precision Montesquieu, in the 
first part of the eighteenth century, turned his attention to the 
Romans again, we may well come to the conclusion that, with- 
out the classical example shining through the centuries, none of 
the men of the revolutions on cither side of the Atlantic would 
have possessed the courage for what then turned out to be un- 
precedented action. Historically speaking, it was as though the 
Renaissance's revival of antiquity that had come to an abrupt 
end with the rise of the modern age should suddenly be granted 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 197 

another lease on life, as though the republican fervour of the 
short-lived Italian city-states - foredoomed, as Machiavelli knew 
so well, by the advent of the nation-state - had only lain dor- 
mant to give the nations of Europe the time to grow up, as it 
were, under the tutelage of absolute princes and enlightened 

However that may be, the reason why the men of the revolu- 
tions turned to antiquity for inspiration and guidance was most 
emphatically not a romantic yearning for past and tradition. 
Romantic conservatism - and which conservatism worth its salt 
has not been romantic? - was a consequence of the revolutions, 
more specifically of the failure of revolution in Europe; and this 
conservatism turned to the Middles Ages, not to antiquity; it 
glorified those centuries when the secular realm of worldly 
politics received its light from the splendour of the Church, that 
is, when the public realm lived from borrowed light. The men 
of the revolutions prided themselves on their 'enlightenment', on 
their intellectual freedom from tradition, and since they had not 
yet discovered the spiritual perplexities of this situation, they 
were still untainted by the sentimentalities about the past and 
traditions in general which were to become so characteristic for 
the intellectual climate of the early nineteenth century. When 
they turned to the ancients, it was because they discovered in 
them a dimension which had not been handed down by tradition 
- neither by the traditions of customs and institutions nor by the 
great tradition of Western thought and concept. Hence, it was 
not tradition that bound them back to the beginnings of Western 
history but, on the contrary, their own experiences, for which 
they needed models and precedents. And the great model and 
precedent, all occasional rhetoric about the glory of Athens and 
Greece notwithstanding, was for them, as it had been for 
Machiavelli, the Roman republic and the grandeur of its history. 

In order to understand more clearly for what specific lessons 
and precedents the men of the revolutions turned to the great 
Roman example it may be well to recall another, frequently 
noticed fact which, however, plays a distinct role only in the 
American Republic. Many historians, especially in the twentieth 
century, have found it rather disconcerting that the Constitution, 

198 On Revolution 

which, in the words of John Quincy Adams, 'had been extorted 
from the grinding necessity of a reluctant nation*, should have 
become overnight the object of 'an undiscriminating and almost 
blind worship' - as Woodrow Wilson once put it. 28 One could 
indeed vary Bagehot's word about the government of England 
and assert that the Constitution strengthens the American 
government 'with the strength of religion'. Except that the 
strength with which the American people bound themselves to 
their constitution was not the Christian faith in a revealed God, 
nor was it Hebrew obedience to the Creator who also was the 
Legislator of the universe. If their attitude towards Revolution 
and Constitution can be called religious at all, then the word 
'religion' must be understood in its original Roman sense, and 
their piety would then consist in religare, in binding themselves 
back to a beginning, as Roman pietas consisted in being bound 
back to the beginning of Roman history, the foundation of the 
eternal city. Historically speaking, the men of the American 
Revolution, like their colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic, 
had been wrong when they thought they were merely revolving 
back to an 'early period' in order to retrieve ancient rights and 
liberties. But, politically speaking, they had been right in 
deriving the stability and authority of any given body politic 
from its beginning, and their difficulty had been that they could 
not conceive of a beginning except as something which must 
have occurred in a distant past. Woodrow Wilson, even without 
knowing it, called the American worship of the Constitution 
blind and undiscriminating because its origins were not shrouded 
in the halo of time; perhaps the political genius of the American 
people, or the great good fortune that smiled upon the American 
republic, consisted precisely in this blindness, or, to put it 
another way, consisted in the extraordinary capacity to look 
upon yesterday with the eyes of centuries to come. 

The great measure of success the American founders could 
book for themselves, the simple fact that their revolution 
succeeded where all others were to fail, namely, in founding a 
new body politic stable enough to survive the onslaught of 
centuries to come, one is tempted to think, was decided the very 
moment when the Constitution began to be 'worshipped', even 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 199 

though it had hardly begun to operate. And since it was in this 
respect that the American Revolution was most conspicuously 
different from all other revolutions which were to follow, one is 
tempted to conclude that it was the authority which the act of 
foundation carried within itself, rather than the belief in an im- 
mortal Legislator, or the promises of reward and the threats of 
punishment in a 'future state', or even the doubtful self-evidence 
of the truths enumerated in the preamble to the Declaration of 
Independence, that assured stability for the new republic. This 
authority, to be sure, is entirely different from the absolute which 
the men of the revolutions so desperately sought to introduce as 
the source of validity of their laws and the fountain of legitimacy 
for the new government. Here again, it was ultimately the great 
Roman model that asserted itself almost automatically and 
almost blindly in the minds of those who, in all deliberate con- 
sciousness, had turned to Roman history and Roman political 
institutions in order to prepare themselves for their own task. 

For Roman authority was not vested in laws, and the validity 
of the laws did not derive from an authority above them. It was 
incorporated in a political institution, the Roman Senate - 
potestas in populo, but auctoritas in senatu - and the fact that 
the upper chamber was named in accordance with this Roman 
institution is all the more suggestive, as the American Senate 
has little in common with the Roman, or even the Venetian, 
model; it shows clearly how dear the word had become to the 
minds of men who had attuned themselves to the spirit of 
'ancient prudence'. Among 'the numerous innovations displayed 
on the American theater' (Madison), the most momentous per- 
haps and certainly the most conspicuous consisted in a shift of 
the location of authority from the (Roman) Senate to the 
judiciary branch of government; but what remained close to the 
Roman spirit was that a concrete institution was needed and 
established which, in clear distinction from the powers of the 
legislative and executive branches of government, was especially 
designed for the purpose of authority. It was precisely in their 
incorrect use of the word 'senate', or rather in their un- 
willingness to endow with authority a branch of the legislature, 
that the Founding Fathers showed how well they understood 

20Q On Revolution 

the Roman distinction between power and authority. For the 
reason Hamilton insisted that 'the majesty of national authority 
must be manifested through the medium of the courts of 
justice' 2 ' was that, in terms of power, the judiciary branch, pos- 
sessing 'neither Force nor Will but merely judgement . . . , [was] 
beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of 
power*. 30 In other words, its very authority made it unfit for 
power, just as, conversely, the very power of the legislature made 
the Senate unfit to exert authority. Even judicial control, accord- 
ing to Madison, 'the unique contribution of America to the 
science of government 1 , is not without its ancient counterpart 
in the Roman office of censorship, and it was still a 'Council of 
Censors which ... in Pennsylvania in 1783 and 1784 was . . • 
to inquire "whether the constitution had been violated, and 
whether the legislative and executive departments had en- 
croached on each other" *. 31 The point, however, is that when this 
'important and novel experiment in polities' was incorporated 
into the Constitution of the United States it lost, together with 
its name, its ancient characteristics - the power of the ccnsores > 
on one hand, their rotation in office, on the other. Institution- 
ally, it is lack of power, combined with permanence of office, 
which signals that the true seat of authority in the American 
Republic is the Supreme Court. And this authority is exerted in 
a kind of continuous constitution-making, for the Supreme 
Court is indeed, in Woodrow Wilson's phrase, *a kind of Con- 
stitutional Assembly in continuous session'. 8 * 

However, while the American institutional differentiation 
between power and authority bears distinctly Roman traits, its 
own concept of authority is dearly entirely different. In Rome, 
"the function of authority was political, and it consisted in giving 
advice, while in the American republic the function of authority 
is legal, and it consists in interpretation. The Supreme Court 
derives its own authority from the Constitution as a written 
document, while the Roman Senate, the patrcs or fathers of the 
Roman republic, held their authority because they represented* or 
rather reincarnated, the ancestors whose only claim to authority 
in the body politic was precisely that they had founded it, that 
they were the 'founding fathers'. Through the Roman Senators, 

Foundation 11; Novus Ordo Saeclorum 201 

the founders of the city of Rome were present, and with them the 
spirit of foundation was present, the beginning, the principium 
and principle, of those res gestae which from then on formed the 
history of the people of Rome. For auctoritas, whose etymolog- 
ical root is augere, to augment and increase, depended upon the 
vitality of the spirit of foundation, by virtue of which it was 
possible to augment, to increase and enlarge, the foundations as 
they had been laid down by the ancestors. The uninterrupted 
continuity of this augmentation and its inherent authority could 
come about only through tradition, that is, through the handing 
down, through an unbroken line of successors, of the principle 
established in the beginning. To stay in this unbroken line of 
successors meant in Rome to be in authority, and to remain 
tied back to the beginning of the ancestors in pious remembrance 
and conservation meant to have Roman pietas, to be 'religious' 
or 'bound back' to one's own beginnings. Hence, it was neither 
legislating, though it was important enough in Rome, nor ruling 
as such that was thought to possess the highest human virtue, 
but the founding of new stales or the conservation and augmenta- 
tion of those that were already founded : *Neque enim est ulla 
res in qua proprius ad deorum numen virtus accedat humana, 
quam civitates aut condere novas aut conservare iam conditas.' 55 
The very coincidence of authority, tradition, and religion, all 
three simultaneously springing from the act of foundation, was 
the backbone of Roman history from beginning to end. Because 
authority meant augmentation of foundations, Cato could say 
that the constitutio ret publicae was 'the work of no single man 
and of no single time'. By virtue of auctoritas-, permanence and 
change were tied together, whereby, for better and worse, 
throughout Roman history, change could only mean increase 
and enlargement of the old. To the Romans, at least, the con- 
quest of Italy and the building of an empire were legitimate to 
the extent that the conquered territories enlarged the foundation 
of the city and remained tied to it. 

This last point, namely, that foundation, augmentation, and 
conservation are intimately interrelated, might well have been 
the most important single notion which the men of the Revolu- 
tion adopted, not by conscious reflection, but by virtue of being 

202 On Revolution 

nourished by the classics and of having gone to school in Roman 
antiquity. Out of this school had come Harrington's notion of a 
'Commonwealth for increase*, for that was precisely what the 
Roman Republic had always been, just as centuries earlier 
Machiavelli had already nearly textually repeated Cicero's great 
statement, quoted earlier, even though he did not bother to 
mention his name : 'No man is so much raised on high by any of 
his acts as are those who have reformed republics and kingdoms 
with new laws and institutions. . . . After those who have been 
gods, such men get the first praises.' 34 As far as the eighteenth 
century was concerned, it must have seemed to the men of the 
Revolution as though their chief immediate problem - which 
made the theoretical and legal perplexity of the absolute so un- 
comfortably troublesome in practical politics - the problem of 
how to make the Union 'perpetual', 35 of how to bestow per- 
manence upon a foundation, of how to obtain the sanction of 
legitimacy for a body politic which could not claim the sanction 
of antiquity (and what, if not antiquity, had thus far always 
begotten 'the opinion of right'? as Hume once remarked), it 
must have seemed to them as though all this had found a simple 
and, as it were, automatic solution in ancient Rome. The very 
concept of Roman authority suggests that the act of foundation 
inevitably develops its own stability and permanence, and 
authority in this context is nothing more or less than a kind of 
necessary 'augmentation' by virtue of which all innovations and 
changes remain tied back to the foundation which, at the same 
time, they augment and increase. Thus the amendments to the 
Constitution augment and increase the original foundations of 
the American republic; needless to say, the very authority of the 
American Constitution resides in its inherent capacity to be 
amended and augmented. This notion of a coincidence of 
foundation and preservation by virtue of augmentation - that the 
'revolutionary' act of beginning something entirely new, and 
conservative care, which will shield this new beginning through 
the centuries, are interconnected - was deeply rooted in the 
Roman spirit and could be read from almost every page of 
Roman history. The coincidence itself is perhaps best illustrated 
in the Latin word for founding, which is condere and which was 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 203 

derived from an early Latin field god, called Conditor, whose 
main function was to preside over growth and harvest; he ob- 
viously was a founder and preserver at the same time. 

That this interpretation of the success of the American Revolu- 
tion in terms of the Roman spirit is not arbitrary appears to be 
vouched for by the curious fact that it is by no means only we who 
call the men of the Revolution by the name of 'founding fathers', 
but that they thought of themselves in the same way. This fact 
has recently given rise to the rather unpleasant idea that these 
men thought they possessed more virtue and wisdom than could 
be reasonably expected from their successors. 30 But even a cursory 
acquaintance with the thought and style of the time is sufficient 
to see how alien such anticipated arrogance would have been to 
their minds. The fact of the matter is much simpler: they 
thought of themselves as founders because they had consciously 
set out to imitate the Roman example and to emulate the Roman 
spirit. When Madison speaks of the 'successors' on whom it will 
be 'incumbent ... to improve and perpetuate' the great design 
formed by the ancestors, he anticipated 'that veneration which 
time bestows on every thing, and without which the wisest and 
freest government would not possess the requisite stability'. 37 
No doubt the American founders had donned the clothes of the 
Roman maiores, those ancestors who by definition were 'the 
greater ones', even before they were recognized as such by the 
people. But the spirit in which this claim was made was not 
arrogance; it sprang from the simple recognition that either they 
were founders and, consequently, would become ancestors, or 
they had failed. What counted was neither wisdom nor virtue, 
but solely the act itself, which was indisputable. What they had 
done, they knew well enough, and they knew enough of history 
to be grateful to have 'been sent into life at a time when the 
greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live'. 38 

We noted earlier that the word 'constitution' carries a twofold 
meaning. We can still understand by it, in Thomas Paine's terms, 
the constituting act, 'antecedent to government', by which a 
people constitutes itself into a body politic, whereas we usually 
mean by it the result of this act, the Constitution as a written 
document. If we now turn our attention once more to the 'un- 

204 ® n R ev °l ut i° n 

discriminating and blind worship' with which the people of the 
United States have looked upon their 'constitution* ever since, 
we may be able to see how ambiguous this worship has always 
been in that its object was at least as much the act of constituting 
as it was the written document itself. In view of the strange fact 
that constitution-worship in America has survived more than a 
hundred years of minute scrutiny and violent critical debunking 
of the document as well as of all the 'truths' which to the 
founders carried self-evidence, one is tempted to conclude that 
the remembrance of the event itself - a people deliberately 
founding a new body politic - has continued to shroud the actual 
outcome of this act, the document itself, in an atmosphere of 
reverent awe which has shielded both event and document 
against the onslaught of time and changed circumstances. And 
one may be tempted even to predict that the authority of the 
republic will be safe and intact as long as the act itself, the 
beginning as such, is remembered whenever constitutional ques- 
tions in the narrower sense of the word come into play. 

The very fact that the men of the American Revolution 
thought of themselves as 'founders' indicates the extent to which 
they must have known that it would be the act of foundation , 
itself, rather than an Immortal Legislator or self-evident truth or 
any other transcendent, transmundane source, which eventually 
would became the fountain of authority in the new body politic. 
From this it follows that it is futile to search for an absolute to 
break the vicious circle in which all beginning is inevitably 
caught, because this 'absolute' lies in the very act of beginning 
itself. In a way, this has always been known, though it was never 
fully articulated in conceptual thought for the simple reason that 
the beginning itself, prior to the era of revolution, has always 
been shrouded in mystery and remained an object of speculation. 
The foundation which now, for the first time, had occurred in 
broad daylight to be witnessed by all who were present had been, 
for thousands of years, the object of foundation legends in 
which imagination tried to reach out into a past and to an event 
which memory could not reach. Whatever we may find out 
about the factual truth of such legends, their historical signifi- 
cance lies in how the human mind attempted to solve the prob- 

Foundation II: Novus Or do Saeclorum 205 

lem of the beginning, of an unconnected, new event breaking 
into the continuous sequence of historical time. 

As far as the men of the Revolution were concerned, there 
were only two foundation legends with which they were fully 
acquainted, the biblical story of the exodus of Israeli tribes from 
Egypt and Virgil's story of the wanderings of Aeneas after he 
had escaped burning Troy. Both are legends of liberation, the 
one of liberation from slavery and the other of escape from 
annihilation, and both stories are centred about a future promise 
of freedom, the eventual conquest of a promised land or the 
foundation of a new city - dum conderet urbem, as Virgil even 
in the beginning of his great poem indicates its actual content. 
With respect to revolution, these tales seem to contain an im- 
portant lesson; in strange coincidence, they both insist on a hiatus 
between the end of the old order* and the beginning of the new, 
whereby it is of no great importance in this context whether the 
hiatus is being filled by the desolate aimless wanderings of Israeli 
tribes in the wilderness or by the adventures and dangers which 
befell Aeneas before he reached the Italian shore. If these 
legends could teach anything at all, their lesson indicated that 
freedom is no more the automatic result of liberation than the 
new beginning is the automatic consequence of the end. The 
revolution - so at least it must have appeared to these men - 
was precisely the legendary hiatus between end and beginning, 
between a no-longer and a not-yct. And these times of transition 
from bondage to freedom must have appealed to their imagina- 
tion very strongly, because the legends unanimously tell us of 
great leaders who appear on the stage of history precisely in 
these gaps of historical time. 39 Moreover, this hiatus obviously 
creeps into all time speculations which deviate from the currently 
accepted notion of time as a continuous flow; it was, therefore, 
an almost natural object of human imagination and speculation, 
in so far as these touched the problem of beginning at all; but 
what had been known to speculative thought and in legendary 
tales, it seemed, appeared for the first time as an actual reality. 
If one dated the revolution, it was as though one had done the 
impossible, namely, one had dated the hiatus in time in terms 
of chronology, that is, of historical time. 40 

206 On Revolution 

It is in the very nature of a beginning to carry with itself a 
measure of complete arbitrariness. Not only is it not bound into 
a reliable chain of cause and effect, a chain in which each effect 
immediately turns into the cause for future developments, the 
beginning has, as it were, nothing whatsoever to hold on to; it is 
as though it came out of nowhere in either time or space. For a 
moment, the moment of beginning, it is as though the beginner 
had abolished the sequence of temporality itself, or as though the 
actors were thrown out of the temporal order and its continuity. 
The problem of beginning, of course, appears first in thought 
and speculation about the origin of the universe, and we know 
the Hebrew solution for its perplexities - the assumption of a 
Creator God who is outside his own creation in the same way as 
the fabricator is outside the fabricated object. In other words, 
the problem of beginning is solved through the introduction of 
a beginner whose own beginnings are no longer subject to 
question because he is 'from eternity to eternity'. This eternity 
is the absolute of temporality, and to the extent that the begin- 
ning of the universe reaches back into this region of the absolute, 
it is no longer arbitrary but rooted in something which, though 
it may be beyond the reasoning capacities of man, possesses a 
reason, a rationale of its own. The curious fact that the men of 
the revolutions were prompted into their desperate search for an 
absolute the very moment they had been forced to act might 
well be, at least partly, influenced by the age-old thought-customs 
of Western men, according to which each completely new 
beginning needs an absolute from which it springs and by which 
it is 'explained'. 

No matter how much the involuntary thought-reactions of the 
men of the revolutions may still have been dominated by the 
Hebrew-Christian tradition, there is no doubt that their con- 
scious effort to grapple with the perplexities of beginning as they 
appear in the very act of foundation turned not to the 'In the 
beginning God created the heavens and the earth' but to *ancient 
prudence', to the political wisdom of antiquity and, more specifi- 
cally, to Roman antiquity. It is no accident of tradition that the 
revival of ancient thought and the great effort to retrieve the 
elements of ancient political life neglected (or misunderstood) 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 207 

the Greeks and took its bearings almost exclusively from Roman 
examples. Roman history had been centred about the idea of 
foundation, and none of the great Roman political concepts such 
as authority, tradition, religion, law, et cetera can be understood 
without an insight into the great deed which stands at the 
beginning of Roman history and chronology, the fact of urbs 
condita, of the foundation of the eternal city. The current 
Roman solution of the problem, inherent in this beginning, is 
perhaps best indicated in Cicero's famous appeal to Scipio to 
become dictator rei publicae constituendae, to establish the 
dictatorship for the fateful moment of constituting - or rather 
reconstituting - the public realm, the republic in its original 
meaning. 41 This Roman solution was the actual source of in- 
spiration of Robespierre's 'despotism of liberty', and had Robes- 
pierre wanted to justify his dictatorship for the sake of the 
constitution of freedom, he might well have appealed to 
Machiavelli : 'To found a new republic, or to reform entirely the 
old institutions of an existing one, must be the work of one man 
only*; 42 he might also have rested his case with James Harring- 
ton, who, referring 'to the ancients and their learned disciple 
Machiavelli (the only politician of later ages)', 43 had also asserted 
*that the legislator* (who for Harrington coincided . with the 
founder) 'should be one man, and . . . that the government 
should be made altogether or at once. . . . For which cause a 
wise legislator . . . may justly endeavour to get the sovereign 
power into his own hands. Nor shall any man that is master of 
reason blame such extraordinary means as in that case shall be 
necessary, the end proving no other than the constitution of a 
well-ordered commonwealth.' 4 * 

However close the men of the revolutions may have come to 
the Roman spirit, however carefully they may have followed 
Harrington's advice to 'ransack the archives of ancient pru- 
dence' 45 - and no one spent more time in this business than 
John Adams - with respect to their main business, the constitu- 
tion of some entirely new, unconnected body politic, these 
archives must have remained strangely silent. Inherent in the 
Roman concept of foundation we find, strangely enough, the 
notion that not only all decisive political changes in the course 

ao8 On Revolution 

of Roman history were reconstitutions, namely, reforms of the 
old institutions and the retrievance of the original act of founda- 
tion, but that even this first act had been already a re-establish- 
ment, as it were, a regeneration and restoration. In the language 
of Virgil the foundation of Rome was the re-establishment of 
Troy, Rome actually was a second Troy. Even Machiavelli, 
partly because he was an Italian and partly because he was still 
close to Roman history, could believe that the new founda- 
tion of a purely secular realm of politics which he had in 
mind actually was nothing but the radical reform of 'the old 
institution*, and even Milton, many years later, could still dream 
not of founding a new Rome, but of building 'Rome anew*. But 
this is not true for Harrington, and the best proof of this lies 
in the fact that he begins to introduce into this discussion 
altogether different images and metaphors, which are utterly 
alien to the Roman spirit. For while he is defending the 'extra- 
ordinary means' necessary for the establishment of Cromwell's 
Commonwealth, he suddenly argues : 'And, whereas a book or a 
building has not been known to attain to perfection if it have 
not had a sole author or architect, a commonwealth, as to the 
fabric of it, is of the like nature.' 46 In other words, he introduces 
here the means of violence which indeed are ordinary a nd neces- 
sa ry for all purp oses o f fabrication precisely because somethi ng is 
cr eated, not outof nothing, but out of given material which must 
be violated in order to yield itself to the formative processes out 
of which a thing, a fabricated object, will arise. The Roman 
dictator, however, was by no means a fabricator, and the citizens 
over whom he had extraordinary powers for the duration of an 
emergency were anything rather than human material out of 
which to 'build' something. To be sure, Harrington was not yet 
in a position to know the enormous dangers inherent in the 
Oceanic enterprise, nor did he have any premonition of the use 
which Robespierre was to make of the extraordinary means of 
violence, when he believed himself to be in the position of an 
'architect' who built out of human material a new house, the 
new republic, for human beings. What happened was that to- 
gether with the new beginning the aboriginal, legendary crime 
of Western mankind reappeared in the scene of European 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 209 

politics, as though once again fratricide was to be the origin of 
fraternity and bestiality the fountainhead of humanity, only that 
now, in conspicuous opposition to man's age-old dreams as well 
as to his later concepts, violence by no means gave birth to some- 
thing new and stable but, on the contrary, drowned in a 'revolu- 
tionary torrent' the beginning as well as the beginners. 

It was perhaps because of the inner affinity between the 
arbitrariness inherent in all beginnings, and human potentiali- 
ties for crime that the Romans decided to derive their descend- 
ance not from Romulus, who had slain Remus, but from 
Aeneas 47 - Romanae stirpis origo ('fount of the Roman race') - 
who had come Ilium in Italiam portans victosque Penates, 
'carrying Ilium and her conquered household gods into Italy'. 48 
To be sure, this enterprise also was accompanied by violence, the 
violence of war between Aeneas and the native Italians, but this 
war, in Virgil's interpretation, was necessary in order to undo 
the war against Troy; since the resurgence of Troy on Italian 
soil - illic fas regna resurgere Troiae - was destined to save 'the 
remnant left by the Grecians and Achilles' wrath' and thus to 
resurrect the gens Hectorea^ which, according to Homer, had 
disappeared from the surface of the earth, the Trojan war must 
be repeated once more, and this meant to reverse the order of 
events as it was laid down in Homer's poems. The reversal of 
Homer is deliberate and complete in Virgil's great poem : there 
is again an Achilles possessed by indomitable rage; Turnus intro- 
duces himself with the words 'Here too shalt thou tell that a 
Priam found his Achilles'; 50 there is 'a second Paris, another bale- 
fire for Troy's towers reborn'. 51 Aeneas himself is obviously 
another Hector, and there stands in the centre of it all, 'the 
source of all that woe, again a woman, Lavinia in the place of 
Helena. And now after he has assembled all the old personages, 
Virgil proceeds to invert the Homeric story: this time it is 
Turnus-Achilles who flees before Aeneas-Hector, Lavinia is a 
bride and not an adulteress, and the end of the war is not victory 
and departure for one side, extermination and slavery and utter 
destruction for the others, but 'both nations, unconquered, join 
treaty forever under equal laws' 52 and settle down together, as 
Aeneas has announced even before the battle begins. 

2I0 On Revolution 

We are not interested in this context in Virgil's demonstration 
of Rome's famous dementia - parcere subiectis et debellare 
superbos - nor in the Roman concept of warfare which underlies 
it, that unique and great notion of a war whose peace is pre- 
determined not by victory or defeat but by an alliance of the 
warring parties, who now become partners, socii or allies, by 
virtue of the new relationship established in the fight itself and 
confirmed through the instrument of lex, the Roman law. Since 
Rome was founded on this treaty-law between two different and 
naturally hostile people, it could become Rome's mission even- 
tually 'to lay all the world beneath laws' - totum sub leges 
mitteret orbem. The genius of Roman politics - not only accord- 
ing to Virgil but, generally, according to Roman self-inter- 
pretation - lay in the very principles which attend the legendary 
foundation of the city. 

In our context, however, it is more important to observe that in 
this self-interpretation even the foundation of Rome was not 
understood as an absolutely new beginning. Rome - that was the 
resurgence of Troy and the re-establishment of some city-state 
that had existed before and of which the thread of continuity 
and tradition never had broken. And we need only recall Virgil's 
other great political poem, the fourth Eclogue, in order to be- 
come aware of how important it was for this self-interpretation to 
see constitution and foundation in terms of restoration and 
re-establishment. For if in the reign of Augustus 'the great cycle 
of periods is born anew' (as all standard translations into 
modern languages translate the great guiding line of the poem: 
Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur or do), it is precisely 
because the 'order of periods' is not the American novus or do 
saeclorum in the sense of an 'absolutely new beginning' 53 - as 
though he were speaking here, in the region of politics, of what 
he speaks of in the Georgica, in an altogether different context, 
namely, of 'the first dawning of the rising world'. 5 * The order of 
the fourth Eclogue is great by virtue of going back to and being 
inspired by a beginning which antedates it: 'Now returns the 
Maid, returns the reign of Saturn', as the next line explicitly 
states. From which it follows, of course, that the child to whose 
birth the poem is addressed is by no means a Gedg oonrip, a 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 211 

divine saviour descending from some transcendent, transmun- 
dane region. This child, most explicitly, is a human child born 
into the continuity of history, and the boy must learn heroum 
laudes et facta parentis, 'the glories of heroes and the father's 
deeds*, in order to be able to do what all Roman boys were 
supposed to grow up to - 'to rule the world that the ancestors' 
virtues have set at peace'. No doubt the poem is a nativity hymn, 
a song of praise to the birth of a child and the announcement of 
a new generation, a nova progenies; but far from being the 
prediction of the arrival of a divine child and saviour, it is,, on 
the contrary, the affirmation of the divinity of birth as such, that 
the world's potential salvation lies in the very fact that the 
human species regenerates itself constantly and forever. 

I have dwelt on Virgil's poem at some length because it seems 
to me as though the poet of the first century b.c. developed in his 
way what the Christian philosopher Augustine in the fifth cen- 
tury a.d. was to articulate in conceptual and Christianized lan- 
guage : Initium ergo ut esset, creatus est homo - 'That there be a 
beginning, man was created,' 03 and what finally must have 
become apparent in the very course of the revolutions of the 
modern age. What matters in our context is less the profoundly 
Roman notion that all foundations are re-establishments and 
reconstructions than the somehow connected but different idea 
that men are equipped for the logically paradoxical task of 
making a new beginning because they themselves are new 
beginnings and hence beginners, that the very capacity for be- 
ginning is rooted in natality, in the fact that human beings 
appear in the world by virtue of birth. It was not the spreading 
of alien cults - the Isis cult or the Christian sects - in the declin- 
ing empire which prompted the Romans to accept the cult of the 
'child' more readily than they accepted almost anything else 
from the strange cultures of a conquered world; 56 it was rather 
the other way round: because Roman politics and civilization 
had this unequalled, intimate connection with the integrity of a 
beginning in the foundation of their city, the Asiatic religions 
which centred around the birth of a child-saviour attracted them 
so strongly; not their strangeness as such but the affinity of birth 
and foundation, that is, the emergence of a familiar thought in 

212 On Revolution 

a strange and more intimate disguise, must have been fascinating 
for men of Roman culture and formation. 

However that may be, or might have been, when the 
Americans decided to vary Virgil's line from magnus ordo 
saeclorum to novus ordo saeclorurriy they had admitted that it 
was no longer a matter of founding 'Rome anew' but of found- 
ing a 'new Rome', that the thread of continuity which bound 
Occidental politics back to the foundation of the eternal city 
and which tied this foundation once more back to the pre- 
historical memories of Greece and Troy was broken and could 
not be renewed. And this admission was inescapable. The 
American Revolution, unique in this respect until the breakdown 
of the European colonial system and the emergence of new 
nations in our own century, was 'to a large extent not only the 
foundation of a new body politic but the beginning of a specific 
national history. No matter how decisively colonial experience 
and pre-colohial history might have influenced the course 
of the Revolution and the formation of public institutions 
in this country, its story as an independent entity begins 
only with the Revolution and the foundation of the republic. 
Hence, it seems, the men of the American Revolution, whose 
awareness of the absolute novelty in their enterprise amounted 
to an obsession, were inescapably caught in something for 
which neither the historical nor the legendary truth of their 
own tradition could offer any help or precedent. And yet, 
when reading Virgil's fourth Eclogue, they might have been 
faintly aware that there exists a solution for the perplexities of 
beginning which needs no absolute to break the vicious circle in 
which all first things seem to be caught. What saves the act of 
beginning from its own arbitrariness is that it carries its own 
principle within itself, or, to be more precise, that beginning and 
principle, principium and principle, are not only related to each 
other, but are coeval. The absolute from which the beginning is 
to derive its own validity and which must save it, as it were, 
from its inherent arbitrariness is the principle which, together 
with it, makes its appearance in the world. The way the beginner 
starts whatever he intends to do lays down the law of action 
for those who have joined him in order to partake in the enter- 

Foundation II: Novus Ordo Saedorum 213 

prise and to bring about its accomplishment. As such, the prin- 
ciple inspires the deeds that are to follow and remains apparent 
as long as the action lasts. And it is not only our own language 
which still derives 'principle' from the Latin principium and 
therefore suggests this solution for the otherwise unsolvable 
problem of an absolute in the realm of human affairs which is 
relative by definition; the Greek language, in striking agreement, 
tells the same story. For the Greek word for beginning is dpxii, 
and &pxf| means both beginning and principle. No later poet or 
philosopher has expressed the innermost meaning of this coin- 
cidence more beautifully and more succinctly than Plato when, 
at the end of his life, he remarked almost casually, dpxf| yap Kal 
0edc, bf &v9pd)7roic, (8p6uevr| ccfcCsi jt&vra 57 - which, in an effort 
to catch the original meaning, we may be permitted to para- 
phrase : 'For the beginning, because it contains its own principle, 
is also a god who, as long as he dwells among men, as long as he 
inspires their deeds, saves everything.' It was the same experience 
which centuries later made Polybius say, 'The beginning is not 
merely half of the whole but reaches out towards the end.' 58 And 
it was still the same insight into the identity of principium and 
principle which eventually persuaded the American community 
to look 'to its origins for an explanation of its distinctive 
qualities and thus for an indication of what its future should 
hold', 59 as it had earlier led Harrington - certainly without any 
knowledge of Augustine and probably without any conscious 
notion of Plato's sentence - to the conviction : 'As no man shall 
show me a Commonwealth born straight that ever became 
crooked, so no man shall show me a Commonwealth born 
crooked that ever became straight.' 60 

Great and significant as these insights are, their political 
relevance comes to light only when it has been recognized that 
they stand in flagrant opposition to the age-old and still current 
notions of the dictating violence, necessary for all foundations 
and hence supposedly unavoidable in all revolutions. In this 
respect, the course of the American Revolution tells an unfor- 
gettable story and is apt to teach a unique lesson; for this 
revolution did not break out but was made by men in common 
deliberation and on the strength of mutual pledges. The prin- 

214 ® n Evolution 

ciple which came to light during those fateful years when the 
foundations were laid - not by the strength of one architect but 
by the combined power of the many - was the interconnected 
principle of mutual promise and common deliberation; and the 
event itself decided indeed, as Hamilton had insisted, that men 
'are really capable ... of establishing good government from 
reflection and choice', that they are not 'forever destined to 
depend for their political constitutions on accident and force'. 61 


The Revolutionary Tradition 
and Its Lost Treasure 

Notre heritage nest precede d'aucun testament -Rene Char 

If there was a single event that shattered the bonds between 
the New World and the countries of the old Continent, it was 
the French Revolution, which, in the view of its contemporaries, 
might never have come to pass without the glorious example on 
the other side of the Atlantic. It was not the fact of revolution 
but its disastrous course and the collapse of the French republic 
which eventually led to the severance of the strong spiritual 
and political ties between America and Europe that had pre- 
vailed all through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 
Thus, Condorcet's Influence de la Revolution d'Atnerique sur 
VEurope, published three years before the storming of the 
Bastille, was to mark, temporarily at least, the end and not the 
beginning of an Atlantic civilization. One is tempted to hope 
that the rift which occurred at the end of the eighteenth century 
is about to heal in the middle of the twentieth century, when it 
has become rather obvious that Western civilization has its last 
chance of survival in an Atlantic community; and among the 
signs to justify this hope is perhaps also the fact that since the 
Second World War historians have been more inclined to con- 
sider the Western world as a whole than they have been since 
the early nineteenth century. 

Whatever the future may hold in store for us, the estrange- 
ment of the two continents after the eighteenth-century revolu- 
tions has remained a fact of great consequence. It was chiefly 

216 On Revolution 

during this time that the New World lost its political significance 
in the eyes of the leading strata in Europe, that America ceased 
to be the land of the free and became almost exclusively the 
promised land of the poor. To be sure, the attitude of Europe's 
upper classes toward the alleged materialism and vulgarity of the 
New World was an almost automatic outgrowth of the social 
and cultural snobbism of the rising middle classes, and as such 
of no great importance. What mattered was that the European 
revolutionary tradition in the nineteenth century did not show 
more than a passing interest in the American Revolution or in 
the development of the American republic. In conspicuous con- 
trast to the eighteenth century, when the political thought of the 
philosophes, long before the outbreak of the American Revolu- 
tion, was attuned to events and institutions in the New World, 
revolutionary political thought in the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries has proceeded as though there never had occurred a 
revolution in the New World and as though there never had 
been any American notions and experiences in the realm of 
politics and government worth thinking about. 

In recent times, when revolution has become one of the most 
common occurrences in the political life of nearly all countries 
and continents, the failure to incorporate the American Revolu- 
tion into the revolutionary tradition has boomeranged upon the 
foreign policy of the United States, which begins to pay an 
exorbitant price for world-wide ignorance and for native 
oblivion. The point is unpleasantly driven home when even 
revolutions in the American continent speak and act as though 
they knew by heart the texts of revolutions in France, in Russia, 
and in China, but had never heard of such a thing as an 
American Revolution. Less spectacular perhaps, but certainly no 
less real, are the consequences of the American counterpart to 
the world's ignorance, her own failure to remember that a 
revolution gave birth to the United States and that the republic 
was brought into existence by no 'historical necessity' and no 
organic development, but by a deliberate act : the foundation of 
freedom. Failure to remember is largely responsible for the in- 
tense fear of revolution in America, for it is precisely this 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 217 

fear that attests to the world at large how right they are to think 
of revolution only in terms of the French Revolution. Fear of 
revolution has been the hidden leitmotif of postwar American 
foreign policy in it's desperate attempts at stabilization of the 
status quo, with the result that American power and prestige 
were used and misused to support obsolete and corrupt political 
regimes that long since had become objects of hatred and con- 
tempt among their own citizens. 

Failure to remember and, with it, failure to understand have 
been conspicuous whenever, in rare moments, the hostile dia- 
logue with Soviet Russia touched upon matters of principle. 
When we were told that by freedom we understood free enter- 
prise, we did very little to dispel this monstrous falsehood, and 
all too often we have acted as though we too believed that it was 
wealth and abundance which were at stake in the postwar con- 
flict between the 'revolutionary' countries in the East and the 
West. Wealth and economic well-being, we have asserted, are 
the fruits of freedom, while we should have been the first to 
know that this kind of 'happiness' was the blessing of America 
prior to the Revolution, and that its cause was natural abund- 
ance under 'mild government', and neither political free- 
dom nor the unchained, unbridled 'private initiative' of capital- 
ism, which in the absence of natural wealth has led everywhere 
to unhappiness and mass poverty. Free enterprise, in other 
words, has been an unmixed blessing only in America, and 
it is a minor blessing compared with the truly political freedoms, 
such as freedom of speech and thought, of assembly and associa- 
tion, even under the best conditions. Economic growth may one 
day turn out to be a curse rather than a good, and under no 
conditions can it either lead into freedom or constitute a proof 
for its existence. A competition between America and Russia, 
therefore, with regard to production and standards of living, 
trips to the moon and scientific discoveries, may be very interest- 
ing in many respects; its outcome may even be understood as a 
demonstration of the stamina and gifts of the two nations in- 
volved, as well as of the value of their different social manners 
and customs. There is only one question this outcome, whatever 

2i 8 On Revolution 

it may be, will never be able to decide, and that is which form of 
government is better, a tyranny or a free republic. Hence, in 
terms of the American Revolution, the response to the Com- 
munist bid to equal and surpass the Western countries in pro- 
duction of consumer goods and economic growth should have 
been to rejoice over the new good prospects opening up to the 
people of the Soviet Union and its satellites, to be relieved that 
at least the conquest of poverty on a world-wide scale could 
constitute an issue of common concern, and then to remind our 
opponents that serious conflicts would not rise out of the dis- 
parity between two economic systems but only out of the con- 
flict between freedom and tyranny, between the institutions of 
liberty, born out of the triumphant victory of a revolution, and 
the various forms of domination (from Lenin's one-party dic- 
tatorship to Stalin's totalitarianism to Khrushchev's attempts 
at an enlightened despotism) which came in the aftermath of a 
revolutionary defeat. 

Finally, it is perfectly true, and a sad fact indeed, that most 
so-called revolutions, far from achieving the constitutio liber- 
tatis, have not even been able to produce constitutional guaran- 
tees of civil rights and liberties, the blessings of 'limited 
government', and there is no question that in our dealings with 
other nations and their governments we shall have to keep in 
mind that the distance between tyranny and constitutional, 
limited government is as great as, perhaps greater than, the dis- 
tance between limited government and freedom. But these 
considerations, however great their practical relevance, should 
be no reason for us to mistake civil rights for political freedom, 
or to equate these preliminaries of civilized government with the 
very substance of a free republic. For political freedom, gener- 
ally speaking, means the right 'to be a participator in govern- 
ment', or it means nothing. 

While the consequences of ignorance, oblivion, and failure to 
remember are conspicuous and of a simple, elementary nature, 
the same is not true for the historical processes which brought 
all this about. Only recently, it has been argued again, and in a 
rather forceful, and sometimes even plausible manner, that it 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 219 

belongs, in general, among the distinct features of an 'American 
frame of mind' to be unconcerned with 'philosophy' and that 
the Revolution, in particular, was the result not of 'bookish' 
learning or the Age of Enlightenment, but of the 'practical' ex- 
periences of the colonial period, which all by themselves gave 
birth to the republic. The thesis, ably and amply propounded 
by Daniel Boorstin, has its merits because it stresses adequately 
the great role the colonial experience came to play in the prepara- 
tion of the Revolution and in the establishment of the republic, 
and yet it will hardly stand up under closer scrutiny. 1 A certain 
distrust of philosophic generalities in the Founding Fathers was, 
without doubt, part and parcel of their English heritage, but 
even a cursory acquaintance with their writings shows clearly 
that they were, if anything, more learned in the ways of 'ancient 
and modern prudence' than their colleagues in the Old World, 
and more likely to consult books for guidance in action. More- 
over, the books they consulted were exactly the same which at 
the time influenced the dominant trends of European thought, 
and while it is true that the actual experience of being a 'par- 
ticipator in government' was relatively well known in America 
prior to the Revolution, when the European men of letters still 
had to search its meaning by way of building Utopias or of 
'ransacking ancient history', it is no less true that the contents 
of what, in one instance, was an actuality and, in the other, a 
mere dream were singularly alike. There is no getting away 
from the politically all-important fact that at approximately 
the same historical moment the time-honoured form of monar- 
chical government was overthrown and republics were estab- 
lished on both sides of the Atlantic. 

However, if it is indisputable that book-learning and think- 
ing in concepts, indeed of a very high calibre, erected the frame- 
work of the American republic, it is no less true that this interest 
in political thought and theory dried up almost immediately 
after the task had been achieved. 2 As I indicated earlier, I think 
this loss of an allegedly purely theoretical interest in political 
issues has not been the 'genius' of American history but, on the 
contrary, the chief reason the American Revolution has re- 
mained sterile in terms of world politics. By the same token, I 

220 On Revolution 

am inclined to think that it was precisely the great amount of 
theoretical concern and conceptual thought lavished upon the 
French Revolution by Europe's thinkers and philosophers 
which contributed decisively to its world-wide success, despite 
its disastrous end. The American failure to remember can be 
traced back to this fateful failure of post-revolutionary thought. 9 
For if it is true that all thought begins with remembrance, it 
is also true that no remembrance remains secure unless it is 
condensed and distilled into a framework of conceptual notions 
within which it can further exercise itself. Experiences and even 
the stories which grow out of what men do and endure, of 
happenings and events, sink back into the futility inherent in 
the living word and the living deed unless they are talked about 
over and over again. What saves the affairs of mortal men from 
their inherent futility is nothing but this incessant talk about 
them, which in its turn remains futile unless certain concepts, 
certain guideposts for future remembrance, and even for sheer 
reference, arise out of it. 4 At any rate, the result of the 'Ameri- 
can* aversion from conceptual thought has been that the inter- 
pretation of American history, ever since Tocqueville, suc- 
cumbed to theories whose roots of experience lay elsewhere, 
until in our own century this country has shown a deplorable 
inclination to succumb to and to magnify almost every fad and 
humbug which the disintegration not of the West but of the 
European political and social fabric after the First World War 
has brought into intellectual prominence. The strange mag- 
nification and, sometimes, distortion of a host of pseudo-scien- 
tific nonsense — particularly in the social and psychological 
sciences - may be due to the fact that these theories, once they 
had crossed the Atlantic, lost their basis of reality and with it 
all limitations through common sense. But the reason America 
has shown such ready receptivity to far-fetched ideas and gro- 
tesque notions may simply be that the human mind stands 
in need of concepts if it is to function at all; hence it will accept 
almost anything whenever its foremost task, the comprehensive 
understanding of reality and the coming to terms with it, is in 
clanger of being compromised. 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 221 

Obviously, what was lost through the failure of thought and 
remembrance was the revolutionary spirit. If we leave aside 
personal motives and practical goals and identify this spirit 
with the principles which, on both sides of the Atlantic, origin- 
ally inspired the men of the revolutions, we must admit that the 
tradition of the French Revolution - and that is the only 
revolutionary tradition of any consequence - has not preserved 
them any better than the liberal, democratic and, in die main, 
outspokenly anti-revolutionary trends of political thought in 
America. 5 We have mentioned these principles before and, fol- 
- lowing eighteenth-century political language, we have called 
them public freedom, public happiness, public spirit. What re- 
mained of them in America, after the revolutionary spirit 
had been forgotten, were civil liberties, the individual welfare 
of the greatest number, and public .opinion as the greatest force 
ruling an egalitarian, democratic society. This transformation 
corresponds with great precision to the invasion of the public 
realm by society; it is as though the originally political prin- 
ciples were translated into social values. But this transformation 
was not possible in those countries which were affected by the 
French Revolution. In its school, the revolutionists learned 
that the early inspiring principles had been overruled by the 
naked forces of want and need, and they finished their appren- 
ticeship with the firm conviction that it was precisely the Revo- 
lution which had revealed these principles for what they actually 
were - a heap of rubbish. To denounce this 'rubbish' as preju- 
dices of the lower middle classes came to them all the easier 
as it was true indeed that society had monopolized these prin- 
ciples and perverted them into 'values'. Forever haunted by the 
desperate urgency of the 'social question', that is, by the spectre 
of the vast masses of the poor whom every revolution was bound 
to. liberate, they seized invariably, and perhaps inevitably, upon 
the most violent events in the French Revolution, hoping 
against hope that violence would conquer poverty. This, to be 
sure, was a counsel of despair; for had they admitted that the 
most obvious lesson to be learned from the French Revolution 
was that la terreur as a means to achieve le bonheur sent rcvo- 

222 On Revolution 

lutions to their doom, they would also have had to admit that 
no revolution, no foundation of a new body politic, was pos- 
sible where the masses were loaded down with misery. 

The revolutionists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 
in sharp contrast to their predecessors in the eighteenth, were 
desperate men, and the cause of revolution, therefore, attracted 
more and more the desperadoes, namely, 'an unhappy species 
of the population . . . who, during the calm of regular govern- 
ment, are sunk below the level of men; but who, in the tempes- 
tuous scenes of civil violence, may emerge into the human 
character, and give a superiority of strength to any party with 
which they may associate themselves.' 6 These words of Madison 
are true enough, except that we must add, if we are to apply 
them to the affairs of European revolutions, that this mixture of 
the unhappy and the worst received their chance to rise again 
'into the human character' from the despair of the best, who, 
after the disasters of the French Revolution, must have known 
that all the odds were against them, and who still could not 
abandon the cause of revolution - partly because they were 
driven by compassion and a deeply and constantly frustrated 
sense of justice, partly because they too knew that 'it is action, 
not rest, which constitutes our pleasure'. In this sense, Tocque- 
ville's dictum, 'In America men have the opinions and passions 
of democracy; in Europe we have still the passions and opinions 
of revolution', 7 has remained valid deep into our own century. 
But these passions and opinions have also failed to preserve the 
revolutionary spirit for the simple reason that they never repre- 
sented it; on the contrary, it was precisely such passions and 
opinions, let loose in the French Revolution, which even then 
"suffocated its original spirit, that is, the principles of public 
freedom, public happiness, and public spirit which originally 
inspired its actors. 

Abstractly and superficially speaking, it seems easy enough to 
pin down the chief difficulty in arriving at a plausible definition 
of the revolutionary spirit without having to rely exclusively, as 
we did before, on a terminology which was coined prior to the 
revolutions. To the extent that the greatest event in every revo- 
lution is the act of foundation, the spirit of revolution contains 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 223 

two elements which to us seem irreconcilable and even contra- 
dictory. The act of founding the new body politic, of devising 
the new form of government involves the grave concern with 
the stability and durability of the new structure; the experience, 
on the other hand, which those who are engaged in this grave 
business are bound to have is the exhilarating awareness of the 
human capacity of beginning, the high spirits which have al- 
ways attended the birth of something new on earth. Perhaps the 
very fact that these two elements, the concern with stability and 
the spirit of the new, have become opposites in political thought 
and terminology - the one being identified as conservatism and 
the other being claimed as the monopoly of progressive liberal- 
ism - must be recognized to be among the symptoms of our loss. 
Nothing, after all, compromises the understanding of political 
issues and their meaningful debate today more seriously than 
the automatic thought-reactions conditioned by the beaten paths 
of ideologies which all were born in the wake and aftermath of 
revolution. For it is by no means irrelevant that our political 
vocabulary cither dates back to classical, Roman and Greek, 
antiquity, or can be traced unequivocally to the revolutions of 
the eighteenth century. In other words, to the extent that our 
political terminology is modern at all, it is revolutionary in 
origin. And the chief characteristic of this modern, revolutionary 
vocabulary seems to be that it always talks in pairs of opposites 
- the right and the left, reactionary and progressive, conservat- 
ism and liberalism, to mention a few at random. How ingrained 
this habit of thought has become with the rise of the revolutions 
may best be seen when we watch the development of new mean- 
ing given to old terms, such as democracy and aristocracy; for 
the notion of democrats versus aristocrats did not exist prior to 
the revolutions. To be sure, these opposites have their origin, 
and ultimately their justification, in the revolutionary experience 
as a while, but the point of the matter is that in the act of 
foundation they were not mutually exclusive opposites but two 
sides of the same event, and it was only after the revolutions had 
come to their end, in success or defeat, that they parted com- 
pany, solidified into ideologies, and began to oppose each other. 
Terminologically speaking, the effort to recapture the lost 

224 On Revolution 

spirit of revolution must, to a certain extent, consist in the at- 
tempt at thinking together and combining meaningfully what 
our present vocabulary presents to us in terms of opposition and 
contradiction. For this purpose, it may be well to turn our atten- 
tion once more to the public spirit which, as we saw, antedated 
the revolutions and bore its first theoretical fruition in James 
Harrington and Montesquieu rather than in Locke and Rous- 
seau. While it is true that the revolutionary spirit was born in 
the revolutions and not before, we shall not search in vain for 
those great exercises in political thought, practically oeval with 
the modern age, through which men prepared themselves for an 
event whose true magnitude they hardly could foresee. And this 
spirit of the modern age, interestingly and significantly enough, 
was preoccupied, from the beginning, with the stability and 
durability of a purely secular, worldly realm - which means, 
among other things, that its political expression stood in fla- 
grant contradiction to the scientific, philosophic, and even artistic 
utterances of the age, all of which were much more concerned 
with novelty as such than with anything else. In other words, the 
political spirit of modernity was born when men were no longer 
satisfied that empires would rise and fall in sempiternal change; 
it is as though men wished to establish a world which could 
be trusted to last forever, precisely because they knew how 
novel everything was that their age attempted to do. 

Hence, the republican form of government recommended it- 
self to the pre-rcvolutionary political thinkers not because of 
its egalitarian character (the confusing and confused equation 
of republican with democratic government dates from the nine- 
teenth century) but because of its promise of great durability. 
This also explains the surprisingly great respect the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries showed for Sparta and Venice, two 
republics which even to the limited historical knowledge of 
the time had not much more to recommend themselves than 
that they were thought to have been the most stable and last- 
ing governments in recorded history. Hence, also, the curious 
predilection the men of the revolutions showed for 'senates', 
a word they bestowed upon institutions which had nothing in 
common with the Roman or even the Venetian model but 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its host Treasure 225 

which they loved because it suggested to their minds an un- 
equalled stability resting on authority. 8 Even the well-known 
arguments of the Founding Fathers against democratic govern- 
ment hardly ever mention its egalitarian character; the objection 
to it was that ancient history and theory had proved the 'tur- 
bulent' nature of democracy, its instability — democracies 'have 
in general been as short in their lives as violent in their death' 9 — 
and the fickleness of its citizens, their lack of public spirit, their 
inclination to be swayed by public opinion and mass sentiments. 
Hence, 'nothing but a permanent body can check the im- 
prudence of democracy'. 10 

Democracy, then, to the eighteenth century still a form of 
government, and neither an ideology nor an indication of class 
preference, was abhorred because public opinion was held to 
rule where the public spirit ought to prevail, and the sign of this 
perversion was the unanimity of the citizenry : for 'when men 
exert their reason coolly and freely on a variety of distinct 
questions, they inevitably fall into different opinions on some 
of them. When they are governed by a common passion, their 
opinions, if they are so to be called, will be the same.' 11 This 
text is remarkable in several respects. To be sure, its simplicity 
is somewhat deceptive in that it is due to an 'enlightened', in 
fact rather mechanical, opposition of reason and passion which 
does not enlighten us very much on the great subject of the 
human capabilities, although it has the great practical merit of 
bypassing the faculty of the will - the trickiest and the most 
dangerous of modern concepts and misconceptions. 12 But this 
does not concern us here; in our context it is of greater impor- 
tance that these sentences hint at least at the decisive incompati- 
bility between the rule of a unanimously held 'public opinion* 
and freedom of opinion, for the truth of the matter is that no 
formation of opinion is ever possible where all opinions have 
become the same. Since no one is capable of forming his own 
opinion without the benefit of a multitude of opinions held by 
others, the rule of public opinion endangers even the opinion of 
those few who may have the strength not to share it. This is 
one of the reasons for the curiously sterile negativism of all 
opinions which oppose a popularly acclaimed tyranny. It is not 

226 On Revolution 

only, and perhaps not even primarily, because of the over- 
whelming power of the many that the voice of the few loses 
all strength and all plausibility under such circumstances; pub- 
lic opinion, by virtue of its unanimity, provokes a unanimous 
opposition and thus kills true opinions everywhere. This is the 
reason why the Founding Fathers tended to equate rule based 
on public opinion with tyranny; democracy in this sense was 
to them but a newfangled form of despotism. Hence, their ab- 
horrence of democracy did not spring so much from the old fear 
of licence or the possibility of factional strife as from their 
apprehension of the basic instability of a government devoid of 
public spirit and swayed by unanimous 'passions'. 

The institution originally designed to guard against rule by 
public opinion or democracy was the Senate. Unlike judicial 
control, currently understood to be 'the unique contribution of 
America to the science of government', 13 the novelty and unique- 
ness of the American Senate has proved more difficult to 
identify - partly because it was not recognized that the ancient 
name was a misnomer (see p. 199), partly because an upper 
chamber was automatically equated with the House of Lords in 
the government of England. The political decline of the House 
of Lords in English government during the last century, the 
inevitable result of the growth of social equality, should be proof 
enough that such an institution could never have made sense 
in a country without a hereditary aristocracy, or in a republic 
which insisted on 'absolute prohibition of titles of nobility'. 14 
And it was indeed no imitation of English government but 
their very original insights into the role of opinion in govern- 
ment which inspired the founders to add to the lower house, 
in which the 'multiplicity of interests' was represented, an upper 
chamber, entirely devoted to the representation of opinion on 
which ultimately 'all governments rest'. 15 Both multiplicity of 
interests and diversity of opinions were accounted among the 
characteristics of 'free government'; their public representation 
constituted a republic as distinguished from a democracy, where 
'a small number of citizens . . . assemble and administer the 
government in person'. But representative government, accord- 
ing to the men of the revolution, was much more than a tech- 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 227 

nical device for government among large populations; limitation 
to a small and chosen body of citizens was to serve as the great 
purifier of both interest and opinion, to guard 'against the 
confusion of a multitude'. 

Interest and opinion are entirely different political phenom- 
ena. Politically, interests are relevant only as group interests, 
and for the purification of such group interests it seems to suf- 
fice that they are represented in such a way that their partial 
character is safeguarded under all conditions, even under the 
condition that the interest of one group happens to be the 
interest of the majority. Opinions, on the contrary, never be- 
long to groups but exclusively to individuals, who 'exert their 
reason coolly and freely', and no multitude, be it the multitude 
of a part or of the whole society, will ever be capable of 
forming an opinion. Opinions will rise wherever men communi- 
cate freely with one another and have the right to make their 
views public; but these views in their endless variety seem to 
stand also in need of purification and representation, and it was 
originally the particular function of the Senate to be the 'medi- 
um' through which all public views must pass. 16 Even though 
opinions are formed by individuals and must remain, as it were, 
their property, no single individual - neither the wise man of 
the philosophers nor the divinely informed reason, common to 
all men, of the Enlightenment - can ever be equal to the task of 
sifting opinions, of passing them through the sieve of an 
intelligence which will separate the arbitrary and the merely 
idiosyncratic, and thus purify them into public views. For 'the 
reason of man, like man himself, is timid and cautious when 
left alone, and acquires firmness and confidence in propor- 
tion to the number with which it is associated'. 17 Since opinions 
are formed and tested in a process of exchange of opinion 
against opinion, their differences can be mediated only by 
passing them through the medium of a body of men, chosen 
for the purpose; these men, taken by themselves, are not wise, 
and yet their common purpose is wisdom - wisdom under the 
conditions of the fallibility and frailty of the human mind. 

Historically speaking, opinion - its relevance for the political 
realm in general and its role in government in particular - was 

228 On Revolution 

discovered in the very event and course of revolution. This, of 
course, is not surprising. That all authority in the last analysis 
rests on opinion is never more forcefully demonstrated than 
when, suddenly and unexpectedly, a universal refusal to obey 
initiates what then turns into a revolution. To be sure, this 
moment - perhaps the most dramatic moment in history - 
opens the doors wide to demagogues of all sorts and colours, 
but what else does even revolutionary demagogy testify if not 
to the necessity of all regimes, old and new, 'to rest on opinion'? 
Unlike human reason, human power is not only 'timid and 
cautious when left alone', it is simply non-existent unless it can 
rely on others; the most powerful king and the least scrupu- 
lous of all tyrants are helpless if no one obeys them, that is, 
supports them through obedience; for, in politics, obedience and 
support are the same. Opinion was discovered by both the 
French and the American Revolutions, but only the latter - 
and this shows once more the high rank of its political creativity 
- knew how to build a lasting institution for the formation of 
public views into the very structure of the republic. What the 
alternative was, we know only too well from the course of the 
French Revolution and of those that followed it. In all these 
instances, the chaos of unrepresented and unpurified opinions, 
because there existed no medium to pass them through, crystal- 
lized into a variety of conflicting mass sentiments under the pres- 
sure of emergency, waiting for a 'strong man' to mould them 
into a unanimous 'public opinion', which spelled death to all 
opinions. In actual fact, the alternative was the plebiscite, the 
only institution which corresponds closely to the unbridled 
rule of public opinion; and just as public opinion is the death 
"of opinions, the plebiscite puts an end to the citizen's right to 
vote, to choose and to control their government. 

In novelty and uniqueness, the institution of the Senate equals 
the discovery of judicial control as represented in the institution 
of Supreme Courts. Theoretically, it only remains to note that 
in these two acquisitions of revolution - a lasting institution for 
opinion and a lasting institution for judgement - the Founding 
Fathers transcended their own conceptual framework, which, of 
course, antedated the Revolution; they thus responded to the 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 229 

enlarged horizon of experiences which the event itself had 
opened up to them. For the three pivotal concepts on which the 
century's pre-revolutionary thought had turned, and which 
theoretically still dominated the revolutionary debates, were 
power, passion, and reason : the power of government was sup- 
posed to control the passion of social interests and to be con- 
trolled, in its turn, by individual reason. In this scheme, opinion 
and judgement obviously belong among the faculties of reason, 
but the point of the matter is that these two, politically most im- 
portant, rational faculties had been almost entirely neglected 
by the tradition of political as well as philosophic thought. 
Obviously it was no theoretical or philosophical interest that 
made the men of the Revolution aware of the importance of these 
faculties; they might have remembered dimly the severe blows 
which first Parmenides and then Plato had dealt to the reputa- 
tion of opinion, which, ever since, has been understood as the 
opposite of truth, but they certainly did not try consciously to 
reassert the rank and dignity of opinion in the hierarchy of 
human rational abilities. The same is true With respect to judge- 
ment, where we would have to turn to Kant's philosophy, rather 
than to the men of the revolutions, if we wished to learn some- 
thing about its essential character and amazing range in the 
realm of human affairs. What enabled the Founding Fathers to 
transcend the narrow and tradition-bound framework of their 
general concepts was the urgent desire to assure stability to their 
new creation, and to stabilize every factor of political life into a 
'lasting institution'. 

Nothing perhaps indicates more clearly that the revolutions 
brought to light the new, secular, and worldly yearnings of the 
modern age than this all-pervasive preoccupation with perma- 
nence, with a 'perpetual state' which, as the colonists never tired 
of repeating, should be secure for their 'posterity'. It would be 
quite erroneous to mistake these claims for the later bourgeois 
desire to provide for the future of one's children and grand- 
children. What lay behind them was the deeply felt desire for an 
Eternal City on earth, plus the conviction that 'a Common- 
wealth rightly ordered, may for any internal causes be as im- 

230 On Revolution 

mortal or long-lived as the World'. 18 And this conviction was so 
un-Christian, so basically alien to the religious spirit of the 
whole period which separates the end of antiquity from the 
modern age, that we must go back to Cicero to find anything 
similar in emphasis and outlook. For the Paulinian notion that 
'the wages of sin is death' echoed only for the individual what 
Cicero had stated as a law ruling communities - Civitatibus 
autem mors ipsa poena est, quae videtur a poena singulos vindi- 
cate; debet enim constituta sic esse civitas ut aeterna sit. 10 ('Since 
a political body must be so constituted that it might be eternal, 
death is for communities the punishment [of their wrong- 
doing], the same death which seems to nullify punishment 
for individuals.') Politically, the outstanding characteristic of the 
Christian era had been that this ancient view of world and man 
- of mortal men moving in an everlasting or potentially ever- 
lasting world — was reversed: men in possession of an ever- 
lasting life moved in an ever-changing world whose ultimate 
fate was death; and the outstanding characteristic of the mod- 
ern age was that it turned once more to antiquity to find a 
precedent for its own new preoccupation with the future of 
the man-made world on earth. Obviously the sccularity of the 
world and the worldliness of men in any given age can best be 
measured by the extent to which preoccupation with the future 
of the world takes precedence in men's minds over preoccupa- 
tion with their own ultimate destiny in a hereafter. Hence, it 
was a sign of the new age's sccularity when even very re- 
ligious people desired not only a government which would leave 
them free to work out their individual salvation but wished 'to 
establish a government . . . more agreeable to the dignity of 
human nature, . . . and to transmit such a government down 
to their posterity with the means of securing and preserving it 
forever'. 20 This, at any rate, was the deepest motive which John 
Adams ascribed to the Puritans, and the extent to which he 
might have been right is the extent to which even the Puritans 
were no longer mere pilgrims on earth but 'Pilgrim Fathers* - 
founders of colonies with their stakes and claims not in the 
hereafter but in this world of mortal men. 
What was true for modern, pre-revolutionary political thought 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 231 

and for the founders of the colonies became even truer for the 
revolutions and the Founding Fathers. It was the modern 'pre- 
occupation with the perpetual state', so evident in Harring- 
ton's writings, 21 which caused Adams to call 'divine' the new 
political science which dealt with 'institutions that last for many 
generations', and it was in Robespierre's 'Death is the begin- 
ning of immortality' that the specifically modern emphasis on 
politics, evidenced in the revolutions, found its briefest and 
most grandiose definition. On a less exalted but certainly not 
less significant level, we find preoccupation with permanence 
and stability running like a red thread through the constitutional 
debates, with Hamilton and Jefferson standing at two opposite 
poles which still belong together - Hamilton holding that con- 
stitutions 'must necessarily be permanent and [that] they can- 
not calculate for the possible change of things', 22 and Jeffcr- ^ 
son, though no less concerned with the 'solid basis for a free, 
durable and well-administered republic', firmly convinced that 
'nothing is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights 
of man' because they are not the work of man but of his 
Creator. 23 Thus, the whole discussion of the distribution and 
balance of power, the central issue of the constitutional debates, 
was still partly conducted in terms of the age-old notion of a 
mixed form of government which, combining the monarchic, 
the aristocratic, and the democratic elements in the same body 
politic, would be capable of arresting the cycle of sempiternal 
change, the rise and fall of empires, and establish an immortal 

Popular and learned opinion are agreed that the two absolutely 
new institutional devices of the American republic, the Senate 
and the Supreme Court, represent the most 'conservative' fac- 
tors in the body politic, and no doubt they are right. The 
question is only whether that which made for stability and 
answered so well the early modern preoccupation with perma- 
nence was enough to preserve the spirit which had become mani- 
fest during the Revolution itself. Obviously this was not the case. 

2 3 2 

On Revolution 

The failure of post-revolutionary thought to remember the revo- 
lutionary spirit and to understand it conceptually was preceded 
by the failure of the revolution to provide it with a lasting 
institution. The revolution, unless it ended in the disaster of 
terror, had come to an end with the establishment of a repub- 
lic which, according to the men of the revolutions, was 'the 
only form of government which is not eternally at open or 
secret war with the rights of mankind'. 24 But in this republic, 
as it presently turned out, there was no space reserved, no room 
left for the exercise of precisely those qualities which had been 
instrumental in building it. And this was clearly no mere over- 
sight, as though those who knew so well how to provide for 
power of the commonwealth and the liberties of its citizens, 
for judgement and opinion, for interests and rights, had simply 
forgotten what actually they cherished above everything else, 
the potentialities of action and the proud privilege of being be- 
ginners of something altogether new. Certainly, they did not 
want to deny this privilege to their successors, but they also 
could not very well wish to deny their own work, although 
Jefferson, more concerned with this perplexity than anybody 
else, almost went to this extremity. The perplexity was very 
simple and, stated in logical terms, it seemed unsolvable: if 
foundation was the aim and the end of revolution, then the 
revolutionary spirit was not merely the spirit of beginning some- 
thing new but of starting something permanent and enduring; a 
lasting institution, embodying this spirit and encouraging it to 
new achievements, would be self-defeating. From which it un- 
fortunately seems to follow that nothing threatens the very 
achievements of revolution more dangerously and more acutely 
than the spirit which has brought them about. Should freedom 
in its most exalted sense as freedom to act be the price 'to be 
paid for foundation? This perplexity, namely, that the principle 
of public freedom and public happiness without which no 
revolution would ever have come to pass should remain the priv- 
ilege of the generation of the founders, has not only produced 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 233 

Robespierre's bewildered and desperate theories about the distinc- 
tion between revolutionary and constitutional government which 
we mentioned earlier, but has haunted all revolutionary think- 
ing ever since. 

On the American scene, no one has perceived this seemingly 
inevitable flaw in the structure of the republic with greater 
clarity and more passionate preoccupation than Jefferson. His 
occasional, and sometimes violent, antagonism against the Con- 
stitution and particularly against those who 'look at constitu- 
tions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the 
ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched', 25 was motivated 
by a feeling of outrage about the injustice that only his genera- 
tion should have it in their power 'to begin the world over 
again'; for him, as for Paine, it was plain 'vanity and presump- 
tion f to govern] beyond the grave'; it was, moreover, the 'most 
ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies'. 26 When he said, 'We 
have not yet so far perfected our constitutions as to venture to 
make them unchangeable*, he added at once, clearly in fear 
of such possible perfection, 'Can they be made unchangeable? 
I think not'; for, in conclusion: 'Nothing is unchangeable but 
the inherent and unalienable rights of man', among which he 
counted the rights to rebellion and revolution. 27 When the news 
of Shay's rebellion in Massachusetts reached him while he was 
in Paris, he was not in the least alarmed, although he conceded 
that its motives were 'founded in ignorance', but greeted it with 
enthusiasm : 'God forbid we should ever be twenty years with- 
out such a rebellion.' The very fact that the people had taken 
it upon themselves to rise and act was enough for him, regard- 
less of the rights or wrongs of their case. For 'the tree of liberty 
must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots 
and tyrants. It is its natural manure.' 28 

These last sentences, written two years before the outbreak 
of the French Revolution and in this form without parallel in 
Jefferson's later writings, 29 may give us a clue to the fallacy 
which was bound to becloud the whole issue of action in the 
thinking of the men of the revolutions. It was in the nature of 
their experiences to see the phenomenon of action exclusively 
in the image of tearing down and building up. Although they 

234 O n Revolution 

had known public freedom and public happiness, in dream or 
in reality, prior to the revolution, the impact of revolutionary ex- 
perience had overruled all notions of a freedom which was not 
preceded by liberation, which did not derive its pathos from 
the act of liberation. By the same token, to the extent that they 
had a positive notion of freedom which would transcend the 
idea of a successful liberation from tyrants and from necessity, 
this notion was identified with the act of foundation, that is, 
the framing of a constitution. Jefferson, therefore, when he 
had learned his lesson from the catastrophes of the French 
Revolution, where the violence of liberation had frustrated all 
attempts at founding a secure space for freedom, shifted from 
his earlier identification of action with rebellion and tearing 
down to an identification with founding anew and building up. 
He thus proposed to provide in the Constitution itself 'for its 
revision at stated periods' which would roughly correspond to 
the periods of the coming and going of generations. His justi- 
fication, that each new generation has 'a right to choose for itself 
the form of government it believes most promotive of its own 
happiness', sounds too fantastic (especially if one considers the 
then prevailing tables of mortality, according to which there 
was 'a new majority' every nineteen years) to be taken seriously; 
it is, moreover, rather unlikely that Jefferson, of all people, 
should have granted the coming generations the right to estab- 
lish non-republican forms of government. What was uppermost 
in his mind was no real change of form of government, not even 
a constitutional provision to hand on the Constitution 'with 
periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of 
time'; it was rather the somewhat awkward attempt at securing 
for each generation the 'right to depute representatives to a 
convention 1 , to find ways and means for the opinions of the 
whole people to be 'fairly, fully, and peaceably expressed, dis- 
cussed, and decided by the common reason of the society*. 80 In 
other words, what he wished to provide for was an exact repe- 
tition of the whole process of action which had accompanied 
the course of the Revolution, and while in his earlier writings he 
saw this actipn primarily in terms of liberation, in terms of the 
violence that had preceded and followed the Declaration of 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 235 

Independence, he later was much more concerned with the con- 
stitution-making and the establishment o£ a new government, 
that is, with those activities which by themselves constituted 
the space of freedom. 

No doubt only great perplexity and real calamity can explain 
that Jefferson — so conscious of his common sense and so 
famous for his practical turn of mind - should have proposed 
these schemes of recurring revolutions. Even in their least ex- 
treme form, recommended as the remedy against 'the endless 
circle of oppression, rebellion, reformation', they would either 
have thrown the whole body politic out of gear periodically or, 
more likely, have debased the act of foundation to a mere routine 
performance, in which case even the memory of what he most 
ardently wished to save - 'to the end of time, if anything 
human can so long endure* - would have been lost. But the 
reason Jefferson, throughout his long life, was carried away by 
such impracticabilities was that he knew, however dimly, that 
the Revolution, while it had given freedom to the people, had 
failed to provide a space where this freedom could be exercised. 
Only the representatives of the people, not the people them- 
selves, had an opportunity to engage in those activities of 'ex- 
pressing, discussing, and deciding' which in a positive sense are 
the activities of freedom. And since the state and federal govern- 
ments, the proudest results of revolution, through sheer weight 
of their proper business were bound to overshadow in political 
importance the townships and their meeting halls - until what 
Emerson still considered to be 'the unit of the Republic' and 'the 
school of the people' in political matters had withered away 31 - 
one might even come to the conclusion that there was less op- 
portunity for the exercise of public freedom and the enjoyment 
of public happiness in the republic of the United States than 
there had existed in the colonies of British America. Lewis 
Mumford recently pointed out how the political importance of 
the township was never grasped by the founders, and that the 
failure to incorporate it into either the federal or the state con- 
stitutions was 'one of the tragic oversights of post-revolutionary 
political development'. Only Jefferson among the founders had 
a clear premonition of this tragedy, for his greatest fear was 

236 On Revolution 

indeed lest 'the abstract political system of democracy lacked 
concrete organs'. 32 

The failure of the founders to incorporate the township and 
the town-hall meeting into the Constitution, or rather their 
failure to find ways and means to transform them under radic- 
ally changed circumstances, was understandable enough. Their 
chief attention was directed toward the most troublesome of 
all their immediate problems, the question of representation, 
and this to such an extent that they came to define republics, as 
distinguished from democracies, in terms of representative gov- 
ernment. Obviously direct democracy would not do, if only 
because 'the room will not hold all' (as John Selden, more than 
a hundred years earlier, had described the chief cause for the 
birth of Parliament). These were indeed the terms in which 
the principle of representation was still discussed at Phila- 
delphia; representation was meant to be a mere substitute for 
direct political action through the people themselves, and the 
representatives they elected were supposed to act according to 
instructions received from their electors, and not to transact busi- 
ness in accordance with their own opinions as they might be 
formed in the process. 33 However, the founders, as distinguished 
from the elected representatives in colonial times, must have 
been the first to know how far removed this theory was from 
reality. 'With regard to the sentiments of the people*, James 
Wilson, at the time of the convention, 'conceived it difficult to 
know precisely what they are', and Madison knew very well that 
'no member of the convention could say what the opinions of 
his constituents were at this time; much less could he say what 
they would think if possessed of the information and lights pos- 
sessed by the members here'. 34 Hence, they could hear with 
approval, though perhaps not entirely without misgivings, when 
Benjamin Rush proposed the new and dangerous doctrine that 
although 'all power is derived from the people, they possess it 
only on the days of their elections. After this it is the property 
of their rulers.' 35 

These few quotations may show as in a nutshell that the 
whole question of representation, one of the crucial and most 
troublesome issues of modern politics ever since the revolutions, 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 237 

actually implies no less than a decision on the very dignity of 
the political realm itself. The traditional alternative between 
representation as a mere substitute for direct action of the people 
and representation as a popularly controlled rule of the people's 
representatives over the people constitutes one of those dilemmas 
which permit of no solution. If the elected representatives are so 
bound by instructions that they gather together only to dis- 
charge the will of their masters, they may still have a choice of 
regarding themselves as either glorified messenger boys or hired 
experts who, like lawyers, are specialists in representing the in- 
terests of their clients. But in both instances the assumption 
is, of course, that the electorate's business is more urgent and 
more important than theirs; they are the paid agents of people 
who, for whatever reasons, are not able, or do not wish, to 
attend to public business. If, on the contrary, the representatives 
are understood to become for a limited time the appointed 
rulers of those who elected them - with rotation in office, there 
is of course no representative government strictly speaking - 
representation means that the voters surrender their own power, 
albeit voluntarily, and that the old adage, 'AH power resides in 
the people,' is true only for the day of election. In the first in- 
stance, government has degenerated into mere administration, 
the public realm has vanished; there is no space either for 
seeing and being seen in action, John Adams' spectemur agendo^ 
or for discussion and decision, Jefferson's pride of being 'a par- 
ticipator in government'; political matters are those that are 
dictated by necessity to be decided by experts, but not open to 
opinions and genuine choice; hence, there is no need for Madi- 
son's 'medium of a chosen body of citizens' through which 
opinions must pass and be purified into public views. In the 
second instance, somewhat closer to realities, the age-olc} dis- 
tinction between ruler and ruled which the Revolution had 
set out to abolish through the establishment of a republic has 
asserted itself again; once more, the people are not^aamitted to 
the public realm, once more the business of government has 
become the privilege of the few, who alone ma^exercise [their] 
virtuous dispositions' (as Jefferson still called men's political 
talents). The result is that the people ^hust either sink into 

238 On Revolution 

'lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty', or 
'preserve the spirit of resistance 1 to whatever government they 
have elected, since the only power they retain is *the reserve 
power of revolution'. 88 

For thes e jvils there was no remedy, since rotation in office, 
so highly valued by the founders and so carefully elaborated by 
them, could hardly do more than prevent the governing few 
from constituting themselves as a separate group with vested 
interests of their own. Rotation could never provide everybody, 
or even a sizeable portion of the population, with the chance 
to become temporarily *a participator in government*. Had 
this evil been restricted to die people at large, it would have 
been bad enough in view of the fact that the whole issue of 
republican versus kingly or aristocratic government turned 
about rights of equal admission to the public, political realm; 
and yet, one suspects, the founders should have found it easy 
enough to console themselves with the thought that the Revolu- 
tion had opened the political realm at least to those whose in- 
clination for 'virtuous disposition* was strong, whose passion 
for distinction was ardent enough to embark upon the extra- 
ordinary hazards of a political career. Jefferson, however, re- 
fused to be consoled. He feared an 'elective despotism* as bad 
as, or worse than, the tyranny they had risen against : 'If once 
[our people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, 
and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all 
become wolves.* 37 And while it is true that historical develop- 
ments in the United States have hardly borne out this fear, it 
is also true that this is almost exclusively due to the founders' 
'political science' in establishing a government in which the 
"divisions of powers have constituted through checks and 
balances their own control. What eventually saved the United 
States from the dangers which Jefferson feared was the 
machinery of government; but this machinery could not save the 
people from lethargy and inattention to public business, since 
the Constitution itself provided a public space only for the 
representatives of the people, and not for the people them- 

It may seem strange that only Jefferson among the men of 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 239 

the American Revolution ever asked himself the obvious ques- 
tion of how to preserve the revolutionary spirit once the revolu- 
tion had come to an end, but the explanation for this lack of 
awareness does not lie in that they themselves were no revolu- 
tionaries. On the contrary, the trouble was that they took this 
spirit for granted, because it was a spirit which had been formed 
and nourished throughout the colonial period. Since, moreover, 
the people remained in undisturbed possession of those institu- 
tions which had been the breeding grounds of the revolution, 
they could hardly become aware of the fateful failure of the 
Constitution to incorporate and duly constitute, found anew, the 
original sources of their power and public happiness. It was 
precisely because of the enormous weight of the Constitution 
and of the experiences in founding a new body politic that 
the failure to incorporate the townships and the town-hall meet- 
ings, the original springs of all political activity in the country, 
amounted to a death sentence for them. Paradoxical as it may 
sound, it was in fact under the impact of the Revolution that 
the revolutionary spirit in America began to wither away, 
and it was the Constitution itself, this greatest achievement of 
the American people, which eventually cheated them of their 
proudest possession. 

In order to arrive at a more precise understanding of these 
matters, and also to gauge correctly the extraordinary wisdom 
of Jefferson's forgotten proposals, we must turn our attention 
once more to the course of the French Revolution, where the 
exact opposite took place. What for the American people had 
been a pre-revolutionary experience and hence seemed not to 
stand in need of formal recognition and foundation was in 
France the unexpected and largely spontaneous outcome of the 
Revolution itself. The famous forty-eight sections of the Parisian 
Commune had their origin in the lack of duly constituted popu- 
lar bodies to elect representatives and to send delegates to the 
National Assembly. These sections, however, constituted them- 
selves immediately as self-governing bodies, and they elected 
from their midst no delegates to the National Assembly, but 
formed the revolutionary municipal council, the Commune of 
Paris, which was to play such a decisive role in the course of the 

240 On Revolution 

Revolution. Moreover, side by side with these municipal bodies, 
and without being influenced by them, we find a great number 
of spontaneously formed clubs and societies - the societes popu- 
lates - whose origin cannot be traced at all to the task of 
representation, of sending duly accredited delegates to the 
National Assembly, but whose sole aims were, in the words of 
Robespierre, 'to instruct, to enlighten their fellow citizens on 
the true principles of the constitution, and to spread a light 
without which the constitution will not be able to survive'; for 
the survival of the constitution depended upon 'the public 
spirit', which, in its turn, existed only in 'assemblies where the 
citizens [could] occupy themselves in common with these 
[public] matters, with the dearest interests of their fatherland'. 
To Robespierre, speaking in September 1791 before the National 
Assembly, to prevent the delegates from curtailing the political 
power of clubs and societies, this public spirit was identical with 
the revolutionary spirit. For the assumption of the Assembly 
then was that the Revolution had come to its end, that the 
societies which the Revolution had brought forward were no 
longer needed, that 'it was time to break the instrument which 
had served so well'. Not that Robespierre denied this assump- 
tion, although he added he did not quite understand what the 
Assembly wanted to affirm with it : for if they assumed, as he 
himself did, that the end of revolution was 'the conquest and 
the conservation of freedom', then, he insisted, the clubs and 
societies were the only places in the country where this freedom 
could actually show itself and be exercised by the citizens. 
Hence, they were the true 'pillars of the constitution', not 
merely because from their midst had come 'a very great number 
of men who once will replace us', but also because they con- 
stituted the very 'foundations of freedom'; whoever interfered 
with their meeting was guilty of 'attacking freedom', and 
among the crimes against the Revolution, 'the greatest was the 
persecution of the societies'. 38 However, no sooner had Robes- 
pierre risen to power and become the political head of the new 
revolutionary government - which happened in the summer of 
1793, a matter of weeks, not even of months, after he had 
uttered some of the comments which I have just quoted - than 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 241 

he reversed his position completely. Now it was he who fought 
relentlessly against what he chose to name 'the so-called popu- 
lar societies' and invoked against them 'the great popular Society 
of the whole French people*, one and indivisible. The latter, 
alas, in contrast to the small popular societies of artisans or 
neighbours, could never be assembled in one place, since no 
'room would hold all'; it could exist only in the form of repre- 
sentation, in a Chamber of Deputies who assumedly held in 
their hands the centralized, indivisible power of the French 
nation. 39 The only exception he now was ready to make was 
in favour of the Jacobins, and this not merely because their 
club belonged to his own party but, even more importantly, 
because it never had been a 'popular' club or society; it had 
developed in 1789 out of the original meeting of the States- 
General, and it had been a club fordeputies ever since. 

That this conflict between government and the people, be- 
tween those who were in power and those who had helped 
them into it, between the representatives and the represented, 
turned into the old conflict between rulers and ruled and 
was essentially a struggle for power is true and obvious enough 
to stand in no need of further demonstration. Robespierre 
himself, before he became head of government, used to de- 
nounce 'the conspiracy of the deputies of the people against 
the people' and the 'independence of its representatives' from 
those they represented, which he equated with oppression. 40 
Such accusations, to be sure, came rather naturally to Rousseau's 
disciples, who did not believe in representation to begin with - 
'a people that is represented is not free, because the will cannot be 
represented'; 41 but since Rousseau's teachings demanded the 
union sacree t the elimination of all differences and distinctions, 
including the difference between people and government, the 
argument, theoretically, could as well be used the other way 
round. And when Robespierre had reversed himself and had 
turned against the societies, he could have appealed again to 
Rousseau and could have said with Couthon that so long as the 
societies existed 'there could be no unified opinion'. 42 Actually 
Robespierre needed no great theories but only a realistic evalua- 
tion of the course of the Revolution to come to the conclusion 

242 On Revolution 

that the Assembly hardly had any share in its more important 
events and transactions, and that the revolutionary government 
had been under the pressure of the Parisian sections and societies 
to an extent which no government and no form of government 
could withstand. One glance at the numerous petitions and 
addresses of these years (which now have been published for 
the first time) 43 is indeed enough to realize the predicament of 
the revolutionary government. They were told to remember that 
'only the poor had helped them', and that the poor now wished 
'to begin to earn the fruits' of their labours; that it was 'always 
the fault of the legislator' if the poor man's 'flesh showed the 
colour of want and misery' and his soul 'walked without energy 
and without virtue'; that it was time to demonstrate to the 
people how the constitution 'would make them actually happy, 
for it is not enough to tell them that their happiness approaches*. 
In short, the people, organized outside the National Assembly in 
its own political societies, informed its representatives that 'the 
republic must assure each individual the means of subsistence', 
that the primary task of the lawgivers was to legislate misery 
out of existence. 

There is, however, another side to this matter, and Robes- 
pierre had not been wrong when he had greeted in the societies 
the first manifestation of freedom and public spirit. Side by side 
with these violent demands for a 'happiness' which is indeed a 
prerequisite of freedom but which, unfortunately, no political 
action can deliver, we find an altogether different spirit and 
altogether different definitions of the societies' tasks. In the by- 
laws of one of the Parisian sections we hear, for instance, how 
the people organized themselves into a society - with president 
and vice-president, four secretaries, eight censors, a treasurer, 
and an archivist; with regular meetings, three in every ten days; 
with rotation in office, once a month for the president; how 
they defined its main task: 'The society will deal with every- 
thing that concerns freedom, equality, unity, indivisibility of the 
republic; [its members] will mutually enlighten themselves and 
they will especially inform themselves on the respect due to the 
laws and decrees which are promulgated'; how they intended to 
keep order in their discussion: if a speaker digresses or gets 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 243 

tiresome, the audience will stand up. From another section we 
hear of a speech *on the development of the republican prin- 
ciples which ought to animate the popular societies', delivered 
by one of the citizens and printed by order of the members. 
There were societies which adopted among their by-laws an 
explicit prohibition 'ever to intrude upon or to try to influence 
the General Assembly', and these, obviously, regarded it as their 
main, if not their sole task to discuss all matters pertaining to 
public affairs, to talk about them and to exchange opinions with- 
out necessarily arriving at propositions, petitions, addresses, and 
the like. It seems to be no accident that it is precisely from one 
of these societies which had foresworn direct pressure upon the 
Assembly that we hear the most eloquent and the most moving 
praise of the institution as such : 'Citizens, the word "popular 
society" has become a sublime word ... If the right to gather 
together in a society could be abolished or even altered, freedom 
would be but a vain name, equality would be a chimera, and 
the republic would have lost its most solid stronghold . . . The 
immortal Constitution which we have just accepted . . . grants 
all Frenchmen the right to assemble in popular societies.'" 

Saint-Just - writing at about the same time that Robespierre 
still defended the rights of the societies against the Assembly - 
had in mind these new promising organs of the republic, rather 
than the pressure groups of the Sans-Culottes, when he stated : 
'The districts of Paris constituted a democracy which would 
have changed everything if, instead of becoming the prey of 
factions, they would have conducted themselves according to 
their own proper spirit. The district of the Cordeliers, which had 
become the most independent one, was also the most persecuted 
one' - since it was in opposition to and contradicted the projects 
of those who happened to be in power. 45 But Saint-Just, no less 
than Robespierre, once he had come into power, reversed him- 
self and turned against the societies. In accordance with the 
policy of the Jacobin government which successfully transformed 
the sections into organs of government and into instruments of 
terror, he asked in a letter to the popular society of Strasbourg 
to give him 'their opinion on the patriotism and the republican 
virtues of each of the members in the administration' of their 

244 On Revolution 

province. Left without answer, he proceeded to arrest the whole 
administrative corps, whereupon he received a vigorous letter 
of protest from the not yet defunct popular society. In his answer 
he gave the stereotyped explanation that he had dealt with a 
'conspiracy'; obviously he had no use any longer for popular 
societies unless they spied for the government. 46 And the im- 
mediate consequence of this turning about was, naturally 
enough, that he now insisted : 'The freedom of the people is in 
its private life; don't disturb it. Let the government be a force 
only in order to protect this state of simplicity against force 
itself.'* 7 These words indeed spell out the death sentence for all 
organs of the people, and they express in rare unequivocality the 
end of all hopes for the Revolution. 

No doubt the Parisian Commune, its sections, and the popular 
societies which had spread all over France during the Revolu- 
tion constituted the mighty pressure groups of the poor, the 
'diamond point* of urgent necessity 'that nothing could with- 
stand' (Lord Acton); but they also contained the germs, the first 
feeble beginnings, of a new type of political organization, of a 
system which would permit the people to become Jefferson's 
'participators in government'. Because of these two aspects, and 
even though the former by far outweighed the latter, the con- 
flict between the communal movement and the revolutionary 
government is open to a twofold interpretation. It is, on one 
hand, the conflict between the street and the body politic, 
between those who 'acted for the elevation of no one but for the 
abasement of all', 48 and those whom the waves of the revolution 
had elevated so high in hope and aspiration that they could 
exclaim with Saint-Just, 'The world has been empty since the 
Romans, their memory is now our only prophecy of freedom,' 
or could state with Robespierre, 'Death is the beginning of im- 
mortality.' It is, on the other hand, the conflict between the 
people and a mercilessly centralized power apparatus which, 
under the pretence of representing the sovereignty of the nation, 
actually deprived the people of their power and hence had to 
persecute all those spontaneous feeble power organs which the 
revolution had brought into existence. 

In our context, it is primarily the latter aspect of the conflict 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 245 

which must interest us, and it is therefore of no small importance 
to note that the societies, in distinction from the clubs, and 
especially from the Jacobin club, were in principle non-partisan, 
and that they 'openly aimed at the establishment of a new 
federalism' * 9 Robespierre and the Jacobin government^ because 
they hated the very notion of a separation and division of 
powers, had to emasculate the societies as well as the sections 
of the Commune; under the condition of centralization of 
power, the societies, each a small power structure of its own, and 
the self-government of the Communes were clearly a danger for 
the centralized state power. 

Schematically speaking, the conflict between the Jacobin 
government and the revolutionary societies was fought over 
three different issues : the first issue was the fight of the republic 
for its survival against the pressure of Sans-Culottism, that is, 
the fight for public freedom against overwhelming odds of 
private misery. The second issue was the fight of the Jacobin 
faction for absolute power against the public spirit of the 
societies; theoretically, this was the fight for a unified public 
opinion, a 'general will', against the public spirit, the diversity 
inherent in freedom of thought and speech; practically, it was 
the power struggle of party and party interest against la chose 
publique, the common weal. The third issue was the fight of the 
government's monopoly of power against the federal principle 
with its separation and division of power, that is, the fight of the 
nation-state against the first beginnings of a true republic. The 
clash on all three issues revealed a profound rift between the 
men who had made the Revolution and had risen to the public 
realm through it, and the people's own notions of what revolu- 
tion should and could do. To be sure, foremost among the revo- 
lutionary notions of the people themselves was happiness, that 
bonheur of which Saint-Just rightly said that it was a new word 
in Europe; and it must be admitted that, in this respect, the 
people defeated very rapidly the older, pre-revolutionary motives 
of their leaders, which they neither understood nor shared. We 
have seen before how 'of all ideas and sentiments which prepared 
the Revolution, the notion and the taste of public liberty, strictly 
speaking, have been the first ones to disappear* (Tocqueville), 

246 On Revolution 

because they could not withstand the onslaught of wretchedness 
which the Revolution brought into the open and, psychologically 
speaking, died away under the impact of compassion with 
human misery. However, while the Revolution taught the men 
in prominence a lesson of happiness, it apparently taught the 
people a first lesson in 'the notion and taste of public liberty'. 
An enormous appetite for debate, for instruction, for mutual 
enlightenment and exchange of opinion, even if all these were to 
remain without immediate consequence on those in power, 
developed in the sections and societies; and when, by fiat from 
above, the people in the sections were made only to listen to 
party speeches and to obey, they simply ceased to show up. 
Finally and unexpectedly enough, the federal principle - practi- 
cally unknown in Europe and, if known, nearly unanimously 
rejected - came to the fore only in the spontaneous organizational 
efforts of the people themselves, who discovered it without even 
knowing its proper name. For if it is true that the Parisian 
sections had originally been formed from above for purposes of 
election for the Assembly, it is also true that these electors' 
assemblies changed, of their own accord, into municipal bodies 
which from their own midst constituted the great municipal 
council of the Parisian Commune. It was this communal council 
system, and not the electors' assemblies, which spread in the 
form of revolutionary societies all over France. 

Only a few words need to be said about the sad end of these 
first organs of a republic which never came into being. They 
were crushed by the central and centralized government, not 
because they actually menaced it but because they were indeed, 
by virtue of their existence, competitors for public power. No 
one in France was likely to forget Mirabcau's words that 'ten 
men acting together can make a hundred thousand tremble 
apart'. The methods employed for their liquidation were so 
simple and ingenious that hardly anything altogether new was 
discovered in the many revolutions which were to follow the 
French Revolution's great example. Interestingly enough, of all 
points of conflict between the societies and the government, the 
decisive one eventually proved to be the non-partisan character of 
the societies. The parties, or rather the factions, which played 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 247 

such a distastrous role in the French Revolution and then became 
the roots of the whole continental party system, had their origin 
in the Assembly, and the ambitions and fanaticism that 
developed between them - even more than the pre-revolutionary 
motives of the men of the revolution - were things which the 
people at large neither understood nor shared. However, since 
there existed no area of agreement between the parliamentary 
factions, it became a matter of life and death for each of them 
to dominate all others, and the only way to do this was to 
organize the masses outside of parliament and to terrorize the 
Assembly with this pressure from without its own ranks. 
Hence, the way to dominate the Assembly was to infiltrate and 
eventually to take over the popular societies, to declare that only 
one parliamentary faction, the Jacobins, was truly revolutionary, 
that only societies affiliated with them were untrustworthy, and 
that all other popular societies were 'bastard societies'. We can 
see here how, at the very beginning of the party system, the one- 
party dictatorship developed out of a multi-party system. For 
Robespierre's rule of terror was indeed nothing else but the 
attempt to organize the whole French people into a single 
gigantic party machinery - 'the great popular Society is the 
French people' - through which the Jacobin club would spread 
a net of party cells all over France; and their tasks were no 
longer discussion and exchange of opinions, mutual instruction 
and information on public business, but to spy upon one another 
and to denounce members and non-members alike. 50 

These things have become very familiar through the course 
of the Russian Revolution, where the Bolshevik party emascu- 
lated and perverted the revolutionary soviet system with exactly 
the same methods. However, this sad familiarity should not pre- 
vent us from recognizing that we are confronted even in the 
midst of the French Revolution with the conflict between the 
modern party system and the new revolutionary organs of self- 
government. These two systems, so utterly unlike and even 
contradictory to each other, were born at the same moment. The 
spectacular success of the party system and the no less spectacular 
failure of the council system were both due to the rise of the 
nation-state, which elevated the one and crushed the other, 

248 On Revolution 

whereby the leftist and revolutionary parties have shown them- 
selves to be no less hostile to the council system than the con- 
servative or reactionary right. Wc have become so used to think- 
ing of domestic politics in terms of party politics that we are 
inclined to forget that the conflict between the two systems has 
actually always been a conflict between parliament, the source 
and seat of power of the party system, and the people, who have 
surrendered their power to their representatives; for no matter 
how successfully a party may ally itself with the masses in the 
street and turn against the parliamentary system, once it has 
decided to seize power and establish a one-party dictatorship, 
it can never deny that its own origin lies in the factional strife 
of parliament, and that it therefore remains a body whose 
approach to the people is from without and from above. 

When Robespierre established the tyrannical force of the 
Jacobin faction against the non-violent power of the popular 
societies, he also asserted and re-established the power of the 
French Assembly with all its inner discord and factional strife. 
The seat of power, whether he knew it or not, was again in the 
Assembly and not, despite all revolutionary oratory, in the 
people. Hence, he broke the most pronounced political ambition 
of the people as it had appeared in the societies, the ambition 
to equality, the claim to be able to sign all addresses and 
petitions directed to delegates or to the Assembly as a whole 
with the proud words *our Equal'. And while the Jacobin Terror 
may have been conscious and overconscious of social fraternity, 
it certainly abolished this equality - with the result that when 
it was their turn to lose in the incessant factional strife in the 
National Assembly, the people remained indifferent and the 
sections of Paris did not come to their aid. Brotherhood, it 
turned out, was no substitute for equality. 

'As Cato concluded every speech with the words, Carthago 
delenda est, so do I every opinion, with the injunction, "divide 
the counties into wards".' 51 Thus Jefferson once summed up an 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 249 

exposition of his most cherished political idea, which, alas, 
turned out to be as incomprehensible to posterity as it had been 
to his contemporaries. The reference to Cato was no idle slip of 
a tongue used to Latin quotations; it was meant to emphasize 
that Jefferson thought the absence of such a subdivision of the 
country constituted a vital threat to the very existence of the 
republic. Just as Rome, according to Cato, could not be safe so 
long as Carthage existed, so the republic, according to Jefferson, 
would not be secure in its very foundations without the ward 
system. "Could I once see this I should consider it as the dawn of 
the salvation of the republic, and say with old Simeon, "Nunc 
dimittis Domine." ' a 

Had Jefferson's plan of 'elementary republics* been carried 
out, it would have exceeded by far the feeble germs of a new 
form of government which we are^able to detect in the sections 
of the Parisian Commune and the popular societies during the 
French Revolution. However, if Jefferson's political imagina- 
tion surpassed them in insight and in scope, his thoughts were 
still travelling in the same direction. Both Jefferson's plan and 
the French sociStis rivolutionaires anticipated with an utmost 
weird precision those councils, Soviets and Rate, which were to 
make their appearance in every genuine revolution throughout 
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each time they appeared, 
they sprang up as the spontaneous organs of the people, not only 
outside of all revolutionary parties but entirely unexpected by 
them and their leaders. Like Jefferson's proposals, they were 
utterly neglected by statesmen, historians, political theorists, and, 
most importantly, by the revolutionary tradition itself. Even 
those historians whose sympathies were clearly on the side of 
revolution and who could not help writing the emergence of 
popular councils into the record of their story regarded them as 
nothing more than essentially temporary organs in the revolu- 
tionary struggle for liberation; that is to say, they failed to 
understand to what an extent the council system confronted 
them with an entirely new form of government, with a new 
public space for freedom which was constituted and organized 
during the course of the revolution itself. 

This statement must be qualified. There are two relevant ex- 

250 On Revolution 

ceptions to it, namely a few remarks by Marx at the occasion 
of the revival of the Parisian Commune during the short-lived 
revolution of 1871, and some reflections by Lenin based not 
on the text by Marx, but on the actual course of the Revolution 
of 1905 in Russia. But before we turn our attention to these 
matters, we had better try to understand what Jefferson had in 
mind when he said with utmost self-assurance, 'The wit of man 
cannot devise a more solid basis for a free, durable, and well- 
administered republic.' 53 

It is perhaps noteworthy that we find no mention of the ward 
system in any of Jefferson's formal works, and it may be even 
more important that the few letters in which he wrote of it 
with such emphatic insistence all date from the last period of 
his life. It is true, at one time he hoped that Virginia, because 
it was 'the first of the nations of the earth which assembled its 
wise men peaceably together to form a fundamental constitu- 
tion', would also be the first 'to adopt the subdivision of our 
counties into wards', 5 * but the point of the matter is that the 
whole idea seems to have occurred to him only at a time when 
he himself was retired from public life and when he had with- 
drawn from the affairs of state. He who had been so explicit in 
his criticism of the Constitution because it had not incorporated 
a Bill of Rights never touched on its failure to incorporate the 
townships which so obviously were the original models of his 
'elementary republics' where 'the voice of the whole people 
would be fairly, fully, and peaceably expressed, discussed, and 
decided by the common reason' of all citizens. 55 In terms of his 
own role in the affairs of his country and the outcome of the 
Revolution, the idea of the ward system clearly was an after- 
thought; and, in terms of his own biographical development, the 
repeated insistence on the 'peaceable' character of these wards 
demonstrates that this system was to him the only possible non- 
violent alternative to his earlier notions about the desirability of 
recurring revolutions. At any event, we find the only detailed 
description of what he had in mind in letters written in the year 
1 816, and these letters repeat rather than supplement one 

Jefferson himself knew well enough that what he proposed as 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 251 

the 'salvation of the republic' actually was the salvation of the 
revolutionary spirit through the republic. His expositions of the 
ward system always began with a reminder of how 'the vigour 
given to our revolution in its commencement' was due to the 
'little republics', how they had 'thrown the whole nation into 
energetic action', and how, at a later occasion, he had felt 'the 
foundations of the government shaken under [his] feet by the 
New England townships', 'the energy of this organization' being 
so great that 'there was not an individual in their States whose 
body was not thrown with all its momentum into action'. Hence, 
he expected the wards to permit the citizens to continue to do 
what they had been able to do during the years of revolution, 
namely, to act on their own and thus to participate in public 
business as it was being transacted from day to day. By virtue of 
the Constitution, the public business of the nation as a whole 
had been transferred to Washington and was being transacted 
by the federal government, of which Jefferson still thought as 
4 the foreign branch' of the republic, whose domestic affairs were 
taken care of by the state governments. 56 But state government 
and even the administrative machinery of the county were by 
far too large and unwieldy to permit immediate participation; 
in all these institutions, it was the delegates of the people rather 
than the people themselves who constituted the public realm, 
whereas those who delegated them and who, theoretically, were 
the source and the seat of power remained forever outside its 
doors. This order of things should have sufficed if Jefferson had 
actually believed (as he sometimes professed) that the happi- 
ness of the people lay exclusively in their private welfare; for 
because of the way the government of the union was constituted 
- with its division and separation of powers, with controls, 
checks, and balances, built into its very centre - it was highly 
unlikely, though of course not impossible, that a tyranny could 
arise out of it. What could happen, and what indeed has hap- 
pened over and over again since, was that 'the representative 
organs should become corrupt and perverted', 57 but such corrup- 
tion was not likely to be due (and hardly ever has been due) to a 
conspiracy of the representative organs against the people 
whom they represented. Corruption in this kind of government 


252 On Revolution 

is much more likely to spring from the midst of society, that is, 
from the people themselves. 

Corruption and perversion are more pernicious, and at the 
same time more likely to occur, in an egalitarian republic than 
in any other form of government. Schematically speaking, they 
come to pass when private interests invade the public domain, 
that is, they spring from below and not from above. It is 
precisely because the republic excluded on principle the old 
dichotomy of ruler and ruled that corruption of the body politic 
did not leave the people untouched, as in other forms of govern- 
ment, where only the rulers or the ruling classes needed to be 
affected, and where therefore an 'innocent' people might indeed 
first suffer and then, one day, effect a dreadful but necessary 
insurrection. Corruption of the people themselves - as distin- 
guished from corruption of their representatives or a ruling 
class - is possible only under a government that has granted 
them a share in public power and has taught them how to mani- 
pulate it. Where the rift between ruler and ruled has been 
closed, it is always possible that the dividing line between public 
and private may become blurred and, eventually, obliterated. 
Prior to the modern age and the rise of society, this danger, 
inherent in republican government, used to arise from the public 
realm, from the tendency of public power to expand and to 
trespass upon private interests. The age-old remedy against this 
danger was respect for private property, that is, the framing of a 
system of laws through which the rights of privacy were publicly 
guaranteed and the dividing line between public and private 
legally protected. The Bill of Rights in the American Constitu- 
tion forms the last, and the most exhaustive, legal bulwark for the 
private realm against public power, and Jefferson's preoccupation 
with the dangers of public power and this remedy against them 
is sufficiently well known. However, under conditions, not of 
prosperity as such, but of rapid and constant economic growth, 
that is, of a constantly increasing expansion of the private realm 
- and these were of course the conditions of the modern age - 
the dangers of corruption and perversion were much more likely 
to arise from private interests than from public power. And it 
speaks for the high calibre of Jefferson's statesmanship that he 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 253 

was able to perceive this danger despite his preoccupation with 
the older and better-known threats of corruption in bodies 

The only remedies against the misuse of public power by 
private individuals lie in the public realm itself, in the light 
which exhibits each deed enacted within its boundaries, in the 
very visibility to which it exposes all those who enter it. Jeffer- 
son, though the secret vote was still unknown at the time, had 
at least a foreboding of how dangerous it might be to allow the 
people a share in public power without providing them at the 
same time with more public space than the ballot box and with 
more opportunity to make their voices heard in public than 
election day. What he perceived to be the mortal danger to the 
republic was that the Constitution had given all power to the 
citizens, without giving them the«opportunity of being republi- 
cans and of acting as citizens. In other words, the danger was 
that all power had been given to the people in their private 
capacity and that there was no space established for them in 
their capacity of being citizens. When, at the end of his life, he 
summed up what to him clearly was the gist of private and 
public morality, 'Love your neighbour as yourself, and your 
country more than yourself,' 58 he knew that this maxim re- 
mained an empty exhortation unless the 'country' could be made 
as present to the 'love' of its citizens as the 'neighbour* was to 
the love of his fellow men. For just as there could not be much 
substance to neighbourly love if one's neighbour should make a 
brief apparition once every two years, so there could not be much 
substance to the admonition to love one's country more than 
oneself unless the country was a living presence in the midst of 
its citizens. 

Hence, according to Jefferson, it was the very principle of 
republican government to demand 'the subdivision of the coun- 
ties into wards', namely, the creation of 'small republics' through 
which 'every man in the State' could become 'an acting member 
of the Common government, transacting in person a great 
portion of its rights and duties, subordinate indeed, yet import- 
ant, and entirely within his competence'. 29 It was 'these little 
republics [that] would be the main strength of the great one'; 60 

254 On Revolution 

for inasmuch as the republican government of the Union was 
based on the assumption that the seat of power was in the 
people, the very condition for its proper functioning lay in a 
scheme 'to divide [government] among the many, distributing, 
to every one exactly the functions he [was] competent to\ With- 
out this, the very principle of republican government could 
never be actualized, and the government of the United States 
would be republican in name only. 

Thinking in terms of the safety of the republic, the question 
was how to prevent 'the degeneracy of our government', and 
Jefferson called every government degenerate in which all powers 
were concentrated 'in the hands of the one, the few, the well- 
born or the many'. Hence, the ward system was not meant to 
strengthen the power of the many but the power of 'every one' 
within the limits of his competence; and only by breaking up 
'the many' into assemblies where every one could count and 
be counted upon 'shall we be as republican as a large society 
can be'. In terms of the safety of the citizens of the republic, 
the question was how to make everybody feel 'that he is a 
participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an 
election one day in the year, but every day; when there shall 
not be a man in the State who will not be a member of some one 
of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out 
of his body sooner than his power wrested from him by a 
Caesar or a Bonaparte'. Finally, as to the question of how to 
integrate these smallest organs, designed for everyone, into the 
governmental structure of the Union, designed for all, his answer 
was: 'The elementary republics of the wards, the county 
republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union 
would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the 
basis of. law, holding every one its delegated share of powers, 
and constituting truly a system of fundamental balances and 
checks for the government,' On one point, however, Jefferson 
remained curiously silent, and that is the question of what the 
specific functions of the elementary republics should be. He 
mentioned occasionally as 'one of the advantages of the ward 
divisions I have proposed' that they would offer a better way to 
collect the voice of the people than the mechanics of representa- 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 255 

tive government; but in the main, he was convinced that if one 
would 'begin them only for a single purpose' they would 'soon 
show for what others they [were] the best instruments'. 61 

This vagueness of purpose, far from being due to a lack of 
clarity, indicates perhaps more tellingly than any other single 
aspect of Jefferson's proposal that the afterthought in which he 
clarified and gave substance to his most cherished recollections 
from the Revolution in fact concerned a new form of govern- 
ment rather than a mere reform of it or a mere supplement to 
the existing institutions. If the ultimate end of revolution was 
freedom and the constitution of a public space where freedom 
could appear, the constitutio libertatis, then the elementary 
republics of the wards, the only tangible place where everyone 
could be free, actually were the end of the great republic whose 
chief purpose in domestic affairs should have been to provide the 
people with such places of freedom and to protect them. The 
basic assumption of the ward system, whether Jefferson knew 
it or not, was that no one could be called happy without his 
share in public happiness, that no one could be called free with- 
out his experience in public freedom, and that no one could be 
called either happy or free without participating, and having 
a share, in public power. 

It is a strange and sad story that remains to be told and remem- 
bered. It is not the story of revolution on whose thread the 
historian might string the history of the nineteenth century in 
Europe, 62 whose origins could be traced back into the Middle 
Ages, whose progress had been irresistible 'for centuries in spite 
of every obstacle', according to Tocqueville, and which Marx, 
generalizing the experiences of several generations, called 'the 
locomotive of all history'. 63 I do not doubt that revolution was 
the hidden leitmotif of the century preceding ours, although I 
doubt both Tocqueville's and Marx's generalizations, especially 
their conviction that revolution had been the result of an ir- 
resistible force rather than the outcome of specific deeds and 

256 On Revqlution 

events. What seems to be beyond doubt and belief is that no 
historian will ever be able to tell the tale of our century without 
stringing it 'on the thread of revolutions'; but this tale, since 
its end still lies hidden in the mists of the future, is not yet fit to 
be told. 

The same, to an extent, is true for the particular aspect of 
revolution with which we now must concern ourselves. This 
aspect is the regular emergence, during the course of revolution, 
of a new form of government that resembled in an amazing 
fashion Jefferson's ward system and seemed to repeat, under no 
matter what circumstances, the revolutionary societies and 
municipal councils which had spread all over France after 1789. 
Among the reasons that recommend this aspect to our attention 
must first be mentioned that we deal here with the phenomenon 
that impressed most the two greatest revolutionists of the whole 
period, Marx and Lenin, when they were witnessing its spon- 
taneous rise, the former during the Parisian Commune of 1871 
and the latter in 1905, during the first Russian Revolution. What 
struck them was not only the fact that they themselves were 
entirely unprepared for these events, but also that they knew 
they were confronted with a repetition unaccounted for by any 
conscious imitation or even mere remembrance of the past. To 
be sure, they had hardly any knowledge of Jefferson's ward 
system, but they knew well enough the revolutionary role the 
sections of the first Parisian Commune had played in the French 
Revolution, except that they had never thought of them as pos- 
sible germs for a new form of government but had regarded 
them as mere instruments to be dispensed with once the revolu- 
tion came to an end. Now, however, they were confronted with 
popular organs - the communes, the councils, the Rate, the 
Soviets - which clearly intended to survive the revolution. This 
contradicted all their theories and, even more importantly, was 
in flagrant conflict with those assumptions about the nature of 
power and violence which they shared, albeit unconsciously, 
with the rulers of the doomed or defunct regimes. Firmly 
anchored in the tradition of the nation-state, they conceived of 
revolution as a means to seize power, and they identified power 
with the monopoly of the means of violence. What actually 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 257 

happened, however, was a swift disintegration of the old power, 
the sudden loss of control over the means of violence, and, at the 
same time, the amazing formation of a new power structure 
which owed its existence to nothing but the organizational im- 
pulses of the people themselves. In other words, when the 
moment of revolution had come, it turned out that there was no 
power left to seize, so that the revolutionists found themselves 
before the rather uncomfortable alternative of either putting 
their own pre-revolutionary 'power', that is, the organization of 
the part apparatus, into the vacated power centre of the defunct 
government, or simply joining the new revolutionary power 
centres which had sprung up without their help. 

For a brief moment, while he was the mere witness of some- 
thing he never had expected, Marx understood that the Kom- 
munalverjassung of the Parisian Commune in 1871, because it 
was supposed to become 'the political form of even the smallest 
village', might well be 'the political form, finally discovered, for 
the economic liberation of labour'. But he soon became aware 
to what an extent this political form contradicted all notions of a 
'dictatorship of the proletariat' by means of a socialist or com- 
munist party whose monopoly of power and violence was 
modelled upon the highly centralized governments of nation- 
states, and he concluded that the communal councils were, after 
all, only temporary organs of the revolution. 61 It is almost the 
same sequence of attitudes which, one generation later, we find 
in Lenin, who twice in his life, in 1905 and in 1917, came under 
the direct impact of the events themselves, that is to say, was 
temporarily liberated from the pernicious influence of a revolu- 
tionary ideology. Thus he could extol with great sincerity in 1905 
'the revolutionary creativity of the people', who spontaneously 
had begun to establish an entirely new power structure in the 
midst of revolution, 65 just as, twelve years later, he could let loose 
and win the October Revolution with the slogan : 'All power to 
the Soviets' But during the years that separated the two revolu- 
tions he had done nothing to reorient his thought and to in- 
corporate the new organs into any of the many party pro- 
grammes, with the result that the same spontaneous develop- 
ment in 1917 found him and his party no less unprepared than 

258 On Revolution 

they had been in 1905. When, finally, during the Kronstadt 
rebellion, the Soviets revolted against the party dictatorship and 
the incompatibility of the new councils with the party system 
became manifest, he decided almost at once to crush the councils, 
since they threatened the power monopoly of the Bolshevik 
party. The name 'Soviet Union' for post-revolutionary Russia has 
been a lie ever since, but this lie has also contained, ever since, 
the grudging admission of the overwhelming popularity, not of 
the Bolshevik party, but of the soviet system which the party 
reduced to impotence. 66 Put before the alternative of either 
adjusting their thoughts and deeds to the new and the unex- 
pected or going to the extreme of tyranny and suppression, they 
hardly hesitated in their decision for the latter; with the except- 
tions of a few moments without consequence, their behaviour 
from beginning to end was dictated by considerations of party 
strife, which played no role in the councils but which indeed had 
been of paramount importance in the pre-revolutionary parlia- 
ments. When the Communists decided, in 1919, 'to espouse only 
the cause of a soviet republic in which the Soviets possess a 
Communist majority' , 67 they actually behaved like ordinary 
party politicians. So great is the fear of men, even of the most 
radical and least conventional among them, of things never seen, 
of thoughts never thought, of institutions never tried before. 

The failure of the revolutionary tradition to give any serious 
thought to the only new form of government born out of 
revolution can partly be explained by Marx's obsession with the 
social question and his unwillingness to pay serious attention to 
questions of state and government. But this explanation is weak 
and, to an extent, even question-begging, because it takes for 
granted the overtowering influence of Marx on the revolutionary 
movement and tradition, an influence which itself still stands 
in need of explanation. It was, after all, not only the Marxists 
among the revolutionists who proved to be utterly unprepared 
for the actualities of revolutionary events. And this unprcpared- 
ness is all the more noteworthy as it surely cannot be blamed 
upon lack of thought or interest in revolution. It is well known 
that the French Revolution had given rise to an entirely new 
figure on the political scene, the professional revolutionist, and 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 259 

his life was spent not in revolutionary agitation, for which there 
existed but few opportunities, but in study and thought, in 
theory and debate, whose sole object was revolution. In fact, no 
history of the European leisure classes would be complete with- 
out a history of the professional revolutionists of the nineteenth 
and twentieth centuries, who, together with the modern artists 
and writers, have become the true heirs of the hommes de lettres 
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The artists and 
writers joined the revolutionists because 'the very word bour- 
geois came to have a hated significance no less aesthetic than 
political* ; G8 together they established Bohemia, that island of 
blessed leisure in the midst of the busy and overbusy century 
of the Industrial Revolution. Even among the members of this 
new leisure class, the professional revolutionist enjoyed special 
privileges since his way of life demanded no specific work what- 
soever. If there was a thing he had no reason to complain of, it 
was lack of time to think, whereby it makes little difference if 
such an essentially theoretical way of life was spent in the 
famous libraries of London and Paris, or in the coffee houses of 
Vienna and Zurich, or in the relatively comfortable and undis- 
turbed jails of the various amciens regimes. 

The role the professional revolutionists played in all mod- 
ern revolutions is great and significant enough, but it did not 
consist in the preparation of revolutions. They watched and 
analysed the progressing disintegration in state and society; they 
hardly did, or were in a position to do, much to advance and 
direct it. Even the wave of strikes that spread over Russia in 
1905 and led into the first revolution was entirely spontaneous, 
unsupported by any political or trade-union organizations, 
which, on the contrary, sprang up only in the course of the 
revolution. 69 The outbreak of most revolutions has surprised 
the revolutionist groups and parties no less than all others, and 
there exists hardly a revolution whose outbreak could be blamed 
upon their activities. It usually was the other way round : revo- 
lution broke out and liberated, as it were, the professional revo- 
lutionists from wherever they happened to be - from jail, or 
from the coffee house, or from the library. Not even Lenin's 
party of professional revolutionists would ever have been able 

260 On Revolution 

to 'make' a revolution; the best they could do was to be around, 
or to hurry home, at the right moment, that is, at the moment of 
collapse. Tocqueville's observation in 1848, that the monarchy 
fell 'before rather than beneath the blows of the victors, who 
were as astonished at their triumph as were the vanquished 
at their defeat', has been verified over and over again. 

The part of the professional revolutionists usually consists 
not in making a revolution but in rising to power after it has 
broken out, and their great advantage in this power struggle 
lies less in their theories and mental or organizational preparation 
than in the simple fact that their names are the only ones which 
are publicly known. 70 It certainly is not conspiracy that 
causes revolution, and secret societies - though they may suc- 
ceed in committing a few spectacular crimes, usually with the 
help of the secret police 71 - are as a rule much too secret to be. 
able to make their voices heard in public. The loss of authority 
in the powers-that-be, which indeed precedes all revolutions, is 
actually a secret to no one, since its manifestations are open and 
tangible, though not necessarily spectacular; but its symptoms, 
general dissatisfaction, widespread malaise, and contempt for 
those in power, are difficult to pin down since their meaning is 
never unequivocal. 72 Nevertheless, contempt, hardly among the 
motives of the typical professional revolutionist, is certainly one 
of the most potent springs of revolution; there has hardly been 
a revolution for which Lamartine's remark about 1848, 'the 
revolution of contempt', would be altogether inappropriate. 

However, while the part played by the professional revolu- 
tionist in the outbreak of revolution has usually been insignifi- 
cant to the point of non-existence, his influence upon the actual 
course a revolution will take has proved to be very great. And 
since he spent his apprenticeship in the school of past revolu- 
tions, he will invariably exert this influence not in favour of 
the new and the unexpected, but in favour of some action which 
remains in accordance with the past. Since it is his very task to 
assure the continuity of revolution, he will be inclined to argue 
in terms of historical precedents, and the conscious and per- 
nicious imitation of past events, which we mentioned earlier, lies, 
partially at least, in the very nature of his profession. Long be- 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 261 

fore the professional revolutionists had found in Marxism their 
official guide to the interpretation and annotation of all history, 
past, present and future, Tocqueville, in 1848, could already 
note : 'The imitation [i.e. of 1789 by the revolutionary Assembly] 
was so manifest that it concealed the terrible originality of the 
facts; I continually had the impression they were engaged in 
play-acting the French Revolution far more than continuing it.' 7S 
And again, during the Parisian Commune of 1871, on which 
Marx and Marxists had no influence whatsoever, at least one 
of the new magazines, Le Pere Duchene, adopted the old revolu- 
tionary calendar's names for the months of the year. It is strange 
indeed that in this atmosphere, where every incident of past 
revolutions was mulled over as though it were part of sacred 
history, the only entirely new and entirely spontaneous institu- 
tion in revolutionary history should have been neglected to the 
point of oblivion. 

Armed with the wisdom of hindsight, one is tempted to quali- 
fy this statement. There are certain paragraphs in the writings 
of the Utopian Socialists, especially in Proudhon and Bakunin, 
into which it has been relatively easy to read an awareness of 
the council system. Yet the truth is that these essentially anarch- 
ist political thinkers were singularly unequipped to deal with 
a phenomenon which demonstrated so clearly how a revolution 
did not end with the abolition of state and government but, 
on the contrary, aimed at the foundation of a new state and the 
establishment of a new form of government. More recently, his- 
torians have pointed to the rather obvious similarities between 
the councils and the medieval townships, the Swiss cantons, the 
English seventeenth-century 'agitators' - or rather 'adjustators', 
as they were originally called - and the General Council of 
Cromwell's army, but the point of the matter is that none of 
them, with the possible exception of the medieval town, 7 * had 
ever the slightest influence on the minds of the people who in 
the course of a revolution spontaneously organized themselves in 

Hence, no tradition, either revolutionary or pre-revolutionary, 
can be called to account for the regular emergence and re- 
emergence of the council system ever since the French Revo- 

262 On Revolution 

lution. If we leave aside the February Revolution of 1848 in 
Paris, where a commission pour les travailleurs, set up by the 
government itself, was almost exclusively concerned with ques- 
tions of social legislation, the main dates of appearance of these 
organs of action and germs of a new state are the following: 
the year 1870, when the French capital under siege by the Prus- 
sian army 'spontaneously reorganized itself into a miniature 
federal body', which then formed the nucleus for the Parisian 
Commune government in the spring of 1871; 75 the year 1905, 
when the wave of spontaneous strikes in Russia suddenly de- 
veloped a political leadership of its own, outside all revolution- 
ary parties and groups, and the workers in the factories organ- 
ized themselves into councils, Soviets, for the purpose of repre- 
sentative self-government; the February Revolution of 1917 in 
Russia, when 'despite different political tendencies among the 
Russian workers, the organization itself, that is the soviet, was 
not even subject to discussion'; 76 the years 1918 and 1919 in 
Germany, when, after the defeat of the army, soldiers and wor- 
kers in open rebellion constituted themselves into Arbeiter- und 
Soldatenrate, demanding, in Berlin, that this Ratesystem be- 
come the foundation stone of the new German constitution, 
and establishing, together with the Bohemians of the coffee 
houses, in Munich in the spring of 1919, the short-lived Bavarian 
Rdterepubli\'^ the last date, finally, is the autumn of 1956, when 
the Hungarian Revolution from its very beginning produced the 
council system anew in Budapest, from which it spread all over 
the country 'with incredible rapidity'. 78 

The mere enumeration of these dates suggests a continuity 
that in fact never existed. It is precisely the absence of con- 
tinuity, tradition, and organized influence that makes the same- 
ness of the phenomenon so very striking. Outstanding among 
the councils' common characteristics is, of course, the spontaneity 
of their coming into being, because it clearly and flagrantly con- 
tradicts the theoretical 'twentieth-century model of revolution - 
planned, prepared, and executed almost to cold scientific exact- 
ness by the professional revolutionaries'. 79 It is true that wher- 
ever the revolution was not defeated and not followed by some 
sort of restoration the one-party dictatorship, that is, the model 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 263 

of the professional revolutionary, eventually prevailed, but it 
prevailed only after a violent struggle with the organs and insti- 
tutions of the revolution itself. The councils, moreover, were 
always organs of order as much as organs of action, and it was 
indeed their aspiration to lay down the new order that brought 
them into conflict with the groups of professional revolution- 
aries, who wished to degrade them to mere executive organs of 
revolutionary activity. It is true enough that the members of 
the councils were not content to discuss and 'enlighten them- 
selves' about measures that were taken by parties or assemblies; 
they consciously and explicitly desired the direct participation of 
every citizen in the public affairs of the country, 80 and as long as 
they lasted, there is no doubt that 'every individual found his 
own sphere of action and could behold, as it were, with his own 
eyes his own contribution to the eyents of the day'. 81 Witnesses 
of their functioning were often agreed on the extent to which 
the revolution had given birth to a 'direct regeneration of 
democracy', whereby the implication was that all such regenera- 
tions, alas, were foredoomed since, obviously, a direct handling 
of public business through the people was impossible under 
modern conditions. They looked upon the councils as though 
they were a romantic dream, some sort of fantastic Utopia come 
true for a fleeting moment to show, as it were, the hopelessly 
romantic yearnings of the people, who apparently did not yet 
know the true facts of life. These realists took their own bear- 
ings from the party system, assuming as a matter of course that 
there existed no other alternative for representative government 
and forgetting conveniently that the downfall of the old regime 
had been due, among other things, precisely to this system. 

For the remarkable thing about the councils was of course 
not only that they crossed all party lines, that members of the 
various parties sat in them together, but that such party mem- 
bership played no role whatsoever. They were in fact the only 
political organs for people who belonged to no party. Hence, 
they invariably came into conflict with all assemblies, with the 
old parliaments as well as with the new 'constituent assemblies', 
for the simple reason that the latter, even in their most ex- 
treme wings, were still the children of the party system. At this 

264 On Revolution 

stage of events, that is, in the midst of revolution, it was the 
party programmes more than anything else that separated the 
councils from the parties; for these programmes, no matter how 
revolutionary, were all 'ready-made formulas' which demanded 
not action but execution - 'to be carried out energetically in 
practice', as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out with such amazing 
clearsightedness about the issues at stake. 82 Today we know 
how quickly the theoretical formula disappeared in practical 
execution, but if the formula had survived its execution, and 
even if it had proved to be the panacea for all evil s, social and 
political, the councils were bound to rebel against any such 
policy since the very cleavage between the party experts who 
'knew' and the mass of the people who were supposed to 
apply this knowledge left out of account the average citizen's 
capacity to act and to form his own opinion. The councils, 
in other words, were bound to become superfluous if the spirit 
of the revolutionary party prevailed. Wherever knowing and 
doing have parted company, the space of freedom is lost. 

The councils, obviously, were spaces of freedom. As such, 
they invariably refused to regard themselves as temporary or- 
gans of revolution and, on the contrary, made all attempts at 
establishing themselves as permanent organs of government. 
Far from wishing to make the revolution permanent, their ex- 
plicitly expressed goal was 'to lay the foundations of a republic 
acclaimed in all its consequences, the only government which 
will close forever the era of invasions and civil wars'; no para- 
dise on earth, no classless society, no dream of socialist or com- 
munist fraternity, but the establishment of 'the true Republic' 
was the 'reward' hoped for as the end of the struggle. 83 And 
what had been true in Paris in 1871 remained true for Russia 
in 1905, when the 'not merely destructive but constructive' inten- 
tions of the first Soviets were so manifest that contemporary wit- 
nesses 'could sense the emergence and the formation of a force 
which one day might be able to effect the transformation of the 
State'. 8 * 

It was nothing more or less than this hope for a transforma- 
tion of the state, for a new form of government that would per- 
mit every member of the modern egalitarian society to become 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 265 

a 'participator* in public affairs, that was buried in the disasters 
of twentieth-century revolutions. Their causes were manifold 
and, of course, varied from country to country, but the forces 
of what is commonly called reaction and counter-revolution are 
not prominent among them. Recalling the record of revolution in 
our century, it is the weakness rather than the strength of these 
forces which is impressive, the frequency of their defeat, the 
ease of revolution, and - last, not least - the extraordinary insta- 
bility and lack of authority of most European governments res- 
tored after the downfall of Hitler's Europe. At any rate, the role 
played by the professional revolutionaries and the revolutionary 
parties in these disasters was important enough, and in our 
context it is the decisive one. Without Lenin's slogan, 'All power 
to the soviets\ there would never have been an October Revolu- 
tion in Russia, but whether or not Lenin was sincere in pro- 
claiming the Soviet Republic, the fact of the matter was even 
then that his slogan was in conspicuous contradiction to the 
openly proclaimed revolutionary goals of the Bolshevik party 
to 'seize power', that is, to replace the state machinery with the 
party apparatus. Had Lenin really wanted to give all power to 
the Soviets, he would have condemned the Bolshevik party to 
the same impotence which now is the outstanding characteristic 
of the Soviet parliament, whose party and non-party deputies 
are nominated by the party and, in the absence of any rival 
list, are not even chosen, but only acclaimed by the voters. But 
while the conflict between party and councils was greatly 
sharpened because of a conflicting claim to be the only 'true* 
representative of the Revolution and the people, the issue at 
stake is of a much more far-reaching significance. 

What the councils challenged was the party system as such, 
in all its forms, and this conflict was emphasized whenever the 
councils, born of revolution, turned against the party or parties 
whose sole aim had always been the revolution. Seen from the 
vanguard point of a true Soviet Republic, the Bolshevik party 
was merely more dangerous but no less reactionary than all the 
other parties of the defunct regime. As far as the form of govern- 
ment is concerned - and the councils everywhere, in contradis- 
tinction to the revolutionary parties, were infinitely more inter- 

266 On Revolution 

ested in the political than in the social aspect of revolution 85 - the 
one-party dictatorship is only the last stage in the development 
of the nation-state in general and of the multi-party system in 
particular. This may sound like a truism in the midst of the 
twentieth century when the multi-party democracies in Europe 
have declined to the point where in every French or Italian elec- 
tion 'the very foundations of the state and the nature of the 
regime' are at stake. 86 It is therefore enlightening to see that in 
principle the same conflict existed even in 1871, during the 
Parisian Commune, when Odysse Barrot formulated with rare 
precision the chief difference in terms of French history between 
the new form of government, aimed at by the Commune, and 
the old regime which soon was to be restored in a different, non- 
monarchical disguise : 'En tant que revolution sociale, 1871 pro- 
cede directement de 1793, qu'il continue et qu'il doit achever. 
... En tant que revolution politique, au contraire, 1871 est re- 
action contre 1793 et un rct o u J" a 1789 • • • H a efface du pro- 
gramme les mots "une et indivisible" et rejette l'idee autoritaire 
qui est une idee toute monarchique . . . pour se rallier a l'idee 
federative, qui est par excellence l'idee liberale et republicaine'* 1 
(my italics). 

These words are surprising because they were written at a 
time when there existed hardly any evidence - at any rate not for 
people unacquainted with the course of the American Revolu- 
tion - about the intimate connection between the spirit of 
revolution and the principle of federation. In order to prove 
what Odysse Barrot felt to be true, we must turn to the Febru- 
ary Revolution of 1917 in Russia and to the Hungarian Revolu- 
tion of 1956, both of which lasted just long enough to show in 
bare outlines what a government would look like and how a 
republic was likely to function if they were founded upon the 
principles of the council system. In both instances councils or 
Soviets had sprung up everywhere, completely independent of 
one another, workers*, soldiers', and peasants' councils in the 
case of Russia, the most disparate kinds of councils in the case 
of Hungary : neighbourhood councils that emerged in all resi- 
dential districts, so-called revolutionary councils that grew out 
of fighting together in the streets, councils of writers and artists, 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 267 

born in the coffee houses of Budapest, students' and youths' 
councils at the universities, workers' councils in the factories, 
councils in the army, among the civil servants, and so on. The 
formation of a council in each of these disparate groups turned 
a more or less accidental proximity into a political institution. 
The most striking aspect of these spontaneous developments is 
that in both instances it took these independent and highly dis- 
parate organs no more than a few weeks, in the case of Russia, 
or a few days, in the case of Hungary, to begin a process of 
co-ordination and integration through the formation of higher 
councils of a regional or provincial character, from which finally 
the delegates to an assembly representing the whole country 
could be chosen. 88 As in the case of the early covenants, 'cosocia- 
tions', and confederations in the colonial history of North 
America, we see here how the federal principle, the principle of 
league and alliance among separate units, arises out of the 
elementary conditions of action itself, uninfluenced by any 
theoretical speculations about the possibilities of republican 
government in large territories and not even threatened into 
coherence by a common enemy. The common object was the 
foundation of a new body politic, a new type of republican 
government which would rest on 'elementary republics' in such 
a way that its own central power did not deprive the constituent 
bodies of their original power to constitute. The councils, in 
other words, jealous of their capacity to act and to form opinion, 
were bound to discover the divisibility of power as well as its 
most important consequence, the necessary separation of powers 
in government. 

It has frequently been noted that the United States and Great 
Britain are among the few countries where the party system 
has worked sufficiently well to assure stability and authority. It 
so happens that the two-party system coincides with a constitu- 
tion that rests on the division of power among the various 
branches of government, and the chief reason for its stability is, 
of course, the recognition of the opposition as an institution of 
government. Such recognition, however, is possible only under 
the assumption that the nation is not une et indivisible, and that 
a separation of powers, far from causing impotence, generates 

268 On Revolution 

and stabilizes power. It is ultimately the same principle which 
enabled Great Britain to organize her far-flung possessions and 
colonies into a Commonwealth, that made it possible for the 
British colonies in North America to unite into a federal system 
of government. What distinguishes the two-party systems of 
these countries, despite all their differences, so decisively from 
the multi-party systems of the European nation-states is by no 
means a technicality, but a radically different concept of power 
which permeates the whole body politic. 89 If we were to classify 
contemporary regimes according to the power principle upon 
which they rest, the distinction between the one-party dictator- 
ships and the multi-party systems would be revealed as much 
less decisive than the distinction that separates them both from 
the two-party systems. After the nation during the nineteenth 
century 'had stepped into the shoes of the absolute prince', it 
became, in the course of the twentieth century, the turn of the 
party to step into the shoes of the nation. It is, therefore, almost 
a matter of course that the outstanding characteristics of the 
modern party - its autocratic and oligarchic structure, its lack 
of internal democracy and freedom, its tendency to 'become to- 
talitarian', its claim to infallibility - are conspicuous by their 
absence in the United States and, to a lesser degree, in Great 
Britain. 90 

However, while it may be true that, as a device of government, 
only the two-party system has proved its viability and, at the 
same time, its capacity to guarantee constitutional liberties, it is 
no less true that the best it has achieved is a certain control of 
the rulers by those who are ruled, but that it has by no means 
enabled the citizen to become a 'participator' in public affairs. 
The most the citizen can hope for is to be 'represented 1 , where- 
by it is obvious that the only thing which can be represented 
and delegated is interest, or the welfare of the constituents, but 
neither their actions nor their opinions. In this system the 
opinions of the people are indeed unascertainable for the simple 
reason that they are non-existent. Opinions are formed in a 
process of open discussion and public debate, and where no 
opportunity for the forming of opinions exists, there may be 
moods - moods of the masses and moods of individuals, the 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 260 

latter no less fickle and unreliable than the former - but no 
opinion. Hence, the best the representative can do is to act as 
his constituents would act if they themselves had any oppor- 
tunity to do so. The same is not true for questions of interest and 
welfare, which can be ascertained objectively, and where the 
need for action and decision arises out of the various conflicts 
among interest groups. Through pressure groups, lobbies, and 
other devices, the voters can indeed influence the actions of their 
representatives with respect to interest, that is, they can force 
their representatives to execute their wishes at the expense of 
the wishes and interests of other groups of voters. In all these 
instances the voter acts out of concern with his private life and 
well-being, and the residue of power he still holds in his hands 
resembles rather the reckless coercion with which a blackmailer 
forces his victim into obedience than the power that arises out 
of joint action and joint deliberation. 

Be that as it may, neither the people in general nor the 
political scientists in particular have left much doubt that the 
parties, because of their monopoly of nomination, cannot be 
regarded as popular organs, but that they are, on the contrary, 
the very efficient instruments through which the power of the 
people is curtailed and controlled. That representative govern- 
ment has in fact become oligarchic government is true enough, 
though not in the classical sense of rule by the few in the inter- 
est of the few; what we today call democracy is a form of govern- 
ment where the few rule, at least supposedly, in the interest of 
the many. This government is democratic in that popular wel- 
fare and private happiness are its chief goals; but it can be 
called oligarchic in the sense that public happiness and public 
freedom have again become the privilege of the few. 

The defenders of this system, which actually is the system of 
the welfare state, if they are liberal and of democratic convic- 
tions must deny the very existence of public happiness and pub- 
lic freedom; they must insist that politics is a burden and that 
its end is itself not political. They will agree with Saint-Just : 'La 
liber te du peuple est dans sa vie privee; ne la troublez point. 
Que le gouvernement . . . ne soit une force que pour proteger 
cet etat de simplicite contre la force meme.' If, on the other 

270 On Revolution 

hand, taught by the profound turmoil of this century, they have 
lost their liberal illusion about some innate goodness_oi the 
people, they are likely to conclude that 'no people has ever been 
known to govern itself,' that 'the will of the people is pro- 
foundly anarchic: it wants to do as it pleases', that its attitude 
toward all government is 'hostility' because 'government and 
constraint are inseparable', and constraint by definition 'is ex- 
ternal to the constrained'. 91 

Such statements, difficult to prove, are even more difficult to 
refute, but the assumptions upon which they rest are not diffi- 
cult to point out. Theoretically, the most relevant and the most 
pernicious among them is the equation of 'people' and masses, 
which sounds only too plausible to everyone who lives in a 
mass society and is constantly exposed to its numerous irrita- 
tions. This is true for all of us, but the author from whom I 
quoted lives, in addition, in one of those countries where parties 
have long since degenerated into mass movements which operate 
outside of parliament and have invaded the private and social 
domains of family life, education, cultural and economic con- 
cerns. 92 And in these cases the plausibility of the equation will 
amount to self-evidence. It is true that the movements' principle 
of organization corresponds to the existence of the modern 
masses, but their enormous attraction lies in the people's sus- 
picion and hostility against the existing party system and the 
prevailing representation in parliament. Where this distrust does 
not exist, as for instance in the United States, the conditions of 
mass society do not lead to the formation of mass movements, 
whereas even countries where mass society is still very far from 
being developed, as for instance France, fall prey to mass move- 
ments, if only enough hostility to the party and parliamentary 
system is extant. Terminological ly speaking, one could say that 
the more glaring the failures of the party system are, the easier 
it will be for a movement not only to appeal to and to organize 
the people, but to transform them into masses. Practically, the 
current 'realism', despair of the people's political capacities, not 
unlike the realism of Saint-Just, is based solidly upon the con- 
scious or unconscious determination to ignore the reality of the 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 271 

councils and to take for granted that there is not, and never has 
been, any alternative to the present system. 

The historical truth of the matter is that the party and council 
systems are almost coeval; both were unknown prior to the 
revolutions and both are the consequences of the modern and 
revolutionary tenet that all inhabitants of a given territory are 
entitled to be admitted to the public, political realm. The coun- 
cils, as distinguished from parties, have always emerged during 
the revolution itself, they sprang from the people as spon- 
taneous organs of action and of order. The last point is worth 
emphasizing; nothing indeed contradicts more sharply the old 
adage of the anarchistic and lawless 'natural' inclinations of a 
people left without the constraint of its government than the 
emergence of the councils that, wherever they appeared, and 
most pronouncedly during the Hungarian Revolution, were con- 
cerned with the reorganization of the political and economic life 
of the country and the establishment of a new order. 93 Parties - 
as distinguished from factions typical of all parliaments and as- 
semblies, be these hereditary or representative - have thus far 
never emerged during a revolution; they either preceded it, as in 
the twentieth century, or they developed with the extension of 
popular suffrage. Hence the party, whether an extension of par- 
liamentary faction or a creation outside parliament, has been 
an institution to provide parliamentary government with the 
required support of the people, whereby it was always under- 
stood that the people, through voting, did the supporting, while 
action remained the prerogative of government. If parties be- 
come militant and step actively into the domain of political 
action, they violate their own principle as well as their function 
in parliamentary government, that is, they become subversive, 
and this regardless of their doctrines and ideologies. The dis- 
integration of parliamentary government - in Italy and Ger- 
many aft x the First World War, for instance, or in France after 
the Second World War - has demonstrated repeatedlv how 
even parties supporting the status quo actually helped to under- 
mine the regime the moment they overstepped their institu- 
tional limitations. Action and participation in public affairs, a 

272 On Revolution 

natural aspiration of the councils, obviously are not signs of 
health and vitality but of decay and perversion in an institu- 
tion whose primary function has always been representation. 

For it is indeed true that the essential characteristic of the 
otherwise widely differing party systems is 'that they "nominate" 
candidates for elective offices or representative government', and 
it may even be correct to say that 'the act of nominating itself is 
enough to bring a political party into being'. 94 Hence, from the 
very beginning, the party as an institution presupposed either 
that the citizen's participation in public affairs was guaranteed 
by other public organs, or that such participation was not neces- 
sary and that the newly admitted strata of the population should 
be content with representation, or, finally, that all political ques- 
tions in the welfare state are ultimately problems of administra- 
tion, to be handled and decided by experts, in which case even 
the representatives of the people hardly possess an authentic area 
of action but are administrative officers, whose business, though 
in the public interest, is not essentially different from the business 
of private management. If the last of these presuppositions 
should turn out to be correct - and who could deny the extent to 
which in our mass societies the political realm has withered 
away and is being replaced by that 'administration of things* 
which Engels predicted for a classless society? - then, to be sure, 
the councils would have to be considered as atavistic institutions 
without any relevance in the realm of human affairs. But 
the same, or something very similar, would then soon enough 
turn out to be true for the party system; for administration 
and management, because their business is dictated by the 
necessities which underlie all economic process, are essen- 
tially not only non-political but even nonpartisan. In a society 
under the sway of abundance, conflicting group interests need 
no longer be settled at one another's expense, and the principle 
of opposition is valid only as long as there exist authentic choices 
which transcend the objective and demonstrably valid opinions 
of experts. When government has really become administration, 
the party system can only result in incompetence and wasteful- 
ness. The only non-obsolete function the party system might 
conceivably perform in such a regime would be to guard it 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 273 

against corruption of public servants, and even this function 
would be much better and more reliably performed by the 
police. 95 

The conflict between the two systems, the parties and the 
councils, came to the fore in all twentieth-century revolutions. 
The issue at stake was representation versus action and participa- 
tion. The councils were organs of action, the revolutionary 
parties were organs of representation, and although the revolu- 
tionary parties halfheartedly recognized the councils as instru- 
ments of 'revolutionary struggle', they tried even in the midst of 
revolution to rule them from within; they knew well enough 
that no party, no matter how revolutionary it was, would be 
able to survive the transformation of the government into a true 
Soviet Republic. For the parties, the need for action itself was 
transitory, and they had no doubt that after the victory of the 
revolution further action would simply prove unnecessary or sub- 
versive. Bad faith and the drive for power were not the decisive 
factors that made the professional revolutionists turn against the 
revolutionary organs of the people; it was rather the elementary 
convictions which the revolutionary parties shared with all 
other parties. They agreed that the end of government was the 
welfare of the people, and that the substance of politics was not 
action but administration. In this respect, it is only fair to say 
that all parties from right to left have much more in common 
with one another than the revolutionary groups ever had in 
common with the councils. Moreover, what eventually decided 
the issue in favour of the party and the one-party dictatorship 
was by no means only superior power or determination to crush 
the councils through ruthless use of the means of violence. 

If it is true that the revolutionary parties never understood to 
what an extent the council system was identical with the emer- 
gence of a new form of government, it is no less true that the 
councils were incapable of understanding to what enormous 
extent the government machinery in modern societies must 
indeed perform the functions of administration. The fatal mis- 
take of the councils has always been that they themselves did not 
distinguish clearly between participation in public affairs, and 
administration or management of things in the public interest. 

274 On Revolution 

In the form of workers' councils, they have again and again 
tried to take over the management of the factories, and all these 
attempts have ended in dismal failure. 'The wish of the working 
class', we are told, 'has been fulfilled. The factories will be 
managed by the councils of the workers.' 96 This so-called wish of 
the working class sounds much rather like an attempt of the 
revolutionary party to counteract the councils' political aspira- 
tions, to drive their members away from the political realm and 
back into the factories. And this suspicion is borne out by two 
facts: the councils have always been primarily political, with 
social and economic claims playing a very minor role, and it was 
precisely this lack of interest in social and economic questions 
which, in the view of the revolutionary party, was a sure sign 
of their 'lower-middle-class, abstract, liberalistic' mentality. 97 In 
fact, it was a sign of their political maturity, whereas the 
workers' wish to run the factories themselves was a sign of the 
understandable, but politically irrelevant desire of individuals to 
rise into positions which up to then had been open only to the 
middle class. 

No doubt, managerial talent should not be lacking in people 
of working-class origins; the trouble was merely that the 
workers' councils certainly were the worst possible organs for its 
detection. For the men whom they trusted and chose from their 
own midst were selected according to political criteria, for their 
trustworthiness, their personal integrity, their capacity of judge- 
ment, often for their physical courage. The same men, entirely 
capable of acting in a political capacity, were bound to fail if 
entrusted with the management of a factory or other administra- 
tive duties. For the qualities of the statesman or the political 
man and the qualities of the manager or administrator are not 
only not the same, they very seldom are to be found in the same 
individual; the one is supposed to know how to deal with men 
in a field of human relations, whose principle is freedom, and 
the other must know how to manage things and people in a 
sphere of life whose principle is necessity. The councils in the 
factories brought an element of action into the management of 
things, and this indeed could not but create chaos. It was 
precisely these foredoomed attempts that have earned the coun- 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 275 

cil system its bad name. But while it is true that they were 
incapable of organizing, or rather of rebuilding, the economic 
system of the country, it is also true that the chief reason for 
their failure was- not any lawlessness of the people, but their 
political qualities. Whereas, on the other hand, the reason why 
the party apparatuses, despite many shortcomings - corruption, 
incompetence and incredible wastefulness - eventually succeeded 
where the councils had failed lay precisely in their original 
oligarchic and even autocratic structure, which made them so 
utterly unreliable for all political purposes. 

Freedom, wherever it existed as a tangible reality, has always 
been spatially limited. This is especially clear for the greatest and 
most elementary of all negative liberties, the freedom of move- 
ment; the borders of national territory or the walls of the city- 
state comprehended and protected a space in which men could 
move freely. Treaties and international guarantees provide an 
extension of this territorially bound freedom for citizens outside 
their own country, but even under these modern conditions the 
elementary coincidence of freedom and a limited space remains 
manifest. What is true for freedom of movement is, to a large 
extent, valid for freedom in general. Freedom in a positive sense 
is possible only among equals, and equality itself is by no means 
a universally valid principle but, again, applicable only with 
limitations and even within spatial limits. If we equate these 
spaces of freedom - which, following the gist, though not the 
terminology, of John Adams, we could also call spaces of 
appearances - with the political realm itself, we shall be in- 
clined to think of them as islands in a sea or as oases in a desert. 
This image, I believe, is suggested to us not merely by the con- 
sistency of a metaphor but by the record of history as well. 

The phenomenon I am concerned with here is usually called 
the 'elite', and my quarrel with this term is not that I doubt that 
the political way of life has never been and will never be the way 
of life of the many, even though political business, by definition, 
concerns more than the many, namely strictly speaking, the sum 
total of all citizens. Political passions - courage, the pursuit of 
public happiness, the taste of public freedom, an ambition that 

276 On Revolution 

strives for excellence regardless not only of social status and 
administrative office but even of achievement and congratula- 
tion - are perhaps not as rare as we are inclined to think, living 
in a society which has perverted all virtues into social values; 
but they certainly are out of the ordinary under all circumstances. 
My quarrel with the 'elite* is that the term implies an oligarchic 
form of government, the domination of the many by the rule of 
a few. From this, one can only conclude - as indeed our whole 
tradition of political thought has concluded - that the essence of 
politics is rulership and that the dominant political passion is 
the passion to rule or to govern. This, I propose, is profoundly 
untrue. The fact that political 'elites' have always determined 
the political destinies of the many and have, in most instances, 
exerted a domination over them, indicates, on the other hand, 
the bitter need of the few to protect themselves against the many, 
or rather to protect the island of freedom they have come to 
inhabit against the surrounding sea of necessity; and it indicates, 
on the other hand, the responsibility that falls automatically 
upon those who care for the fate of those who do not. But 
neither this need nor this responsibility touches upon the essence, 
the very substance of their lives, which is freedom; both are 
incidental and secondary with respect to what actually goes on 
within the limited space of the island itself. Put into terms of 
present-day institutions, it would be in parliament and in con- 
gress, where he moves among his peers, that the political life of 
a member of representative government is actualized, no matter 
how much of his time may be spent in campaigning, in trying 
to get the vote and in listening to the voter. The point of the 
matter is not merely the obvious phoniness of this dialogue in 
modern party government, where the voter can only consent or 
refuse to ratify a choice which (with the exception of the Ameri- 
can primaries) is made without him, and it does not even concern 
conspicuous abuses such as the introduction into politics of 
Madison Avenue methods, through which the relationship 
between representative and elector is transformed into that of 
seller and buyer. Even if there is communication between repre- 
sentative and voter, between the nation and parliament - and the 
existence of such communication marks the outstanding differ- 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 277 

ence between the governments of the British and the Americans 
on one side, and those of Western Europe, on the other - this 
communication is never between equals but between those who 
aspire to govern and those who consent to be governed. It is 
indeed in the very nature of the party system to replace 'the 
formula "government of the people by the people" by this for- 
mula : "government of the people by an tlite sprung from the 
people" \>* 

It has been said that 'the deepest significance of political 
parties' must be seen in their providing 'the necessary frame- 
work enabling the masses to recruit from among themselves 
their own elites', 89 and it is true enough that it was primarily the 
parties which opened political careers to members of the lower 
classes. No doubt the party as the outstanding institution of 
democratic government corresponds to one of the major trends 
of the modern age, the constantly and universally increasing 
equalization of society; but this by no means implies that it 
corresponds to the deepest significance of revolution in the 
modern age as well. The 'elite sprung from the people' has 
replaced the pre-modern elites of birth and wealth; it has 
nowhere enabled the people qua people to make their entrance 
into political life and to become participators in public affairs. 
The relationship between a ruling elite and the people, 
between the few, who among themselves constitute a public 
space, and the many, who spend their lives outside it and in 
obscurity, has remained unchanged. From the viewpoint of 
revolution and the survival of the revolutionary spirit, the trouble 
does not lie in the factual rise of a new elite: it is not the 
revolutionary spirit but the democratic mentality of an 
egalitarian society that tends to deny the obvious inability and 
conspicuous lack of interest of large parts of the population in 
political matters as such. The trouble lies in the lack of public 
spaces to which the people at large would have entrance and 
from which an elite could be selected, or rather, where it could 
select itself. The troub l e, in other words, is that politics ha&__ 
become ^profe ssion and a career, and that the 'elite' therefor e 
is being chosen according to standards and criteria which jure 
themselves profoundly unpoliti cal, T it is m~the^ature~bTairparty 

278 On Revolution 

systems that the authentically political talents can assert them- 
selves only in rare cases, and it is even rarer that the specifically 
political qualifications survive the petty manoeuvres of party 
politics with its demands for plain salesmanship. Of course the 
men who sat in the councils were also an elite, they were even 
the only political elite, of the people and sprung from the people, 
the modern world has ever seen, but they were not nominated 
from above and not supported from below. With respect to the 
elementary councils that sprang up wherever people lived or 
worked together, one is tempted to say that they had selected 
themselves; those who organized themselves were those who 
cared and those who took the initiative; they were the political 
elite of the people brought into the open by the revolution. From 
these 'elementary republics', the councilmen then chose their 
deputies for the next higher council, and these deputies, again, 
were selected by their peers, they were not subject to any pressure 
either from above or from below. Their title rested on nothing 
but the confidence of their equals, and this equality was not 
natural but political, it was nothing they had been born with; it 
was the equality of those who had committed themselves to, and 
now were engaged in, a joint enterprise. Once elected and sent 
in the next higher council, the deputy found himself again 
among his peers, for the deputies on any given level in 
this system were those who had received a special trust. No 
doubt this form of government, if fully developed, would have 
assumed again the shape of a pyramid, which, of course, is the 
shape of an essentially authoritarian government. But while, in 
all authoritarian government we know of, authority is filtered 
down from above, in this case authority would have been 
generated neither at the top nor at the bottom, but on each of the 
pyramid's layers; and this obviously could constitute the solu- 
tion to one of the most serious problems of all modern politics, 
which is not how to reconcile freedom and equality but how to 
reconcile equality and authority. 

(To avoid misunderstanding : The principles for the selection 
of the best as suggested in the council system, the principle of 
self-selection in the grass-roots political organs, and the principle 
of personal trust in their development into a federal form of 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 279 

government are not universally valid; they are applicable only 
within the political realm. The cultural, literary, and artistic, the 
scientific and professional and even the social elites of a 
country are subject to very different criteria among which the 
criterion of equality is conspicuously absent. But so is the prin- 
ciple of authority. The rank of a poet, for instance, is decided 
neither by a vote of confidence of his fellow poets nor by fiat 
coming from the recognized master, but, on the contrary, by 
those who only love poetry and are incapable of ever writing 
a line. The rank of a scientist, on the other hand, is indeed deter- 
mined by his fellow scientists, but not on the basis of highly 
personal qualities and qualifications; the criteria in this instance 
are objective and beyond argument or persuasion. Social elites, 
finally, at least in an egalitarian society where neither birth nor 
wealth counts, come into being through processes of discrimina- 

It would be tempting to spin out further the potentialities of 
the councils, but it certainly is wiser to say with Jefferson, 'Begin 
them only for a single purpose; they will soon show for what 
others they are the best instruments' - the best instruments, for 
example, for breaking up the modern mass society, with its 
dangerous tendency toward the formation of pseudo-political 
mass movements, or rather, the best, the most natural way for 
interspersing it at the grass roots with an 'elite' that is chosen 
by no one but constitutes itself. The joys of public happiness 
and the responsibilities for public business would then become 
the share of those few from all walks of life who have a taste 
for public freedom and cannot be 'happy' without it. Politically, 
they are the best, and it is the task of good government and the 
sign of a well-ordered republic to assure them of their rightful 
place in the public realm. To be sure, such an 'aristocratic* form 
of government would spell the end of general suffrage as we 
understand it today; for only those who as voluntary members 
of an 'elementary republic' have demonstrated that they care for 
more than their private happiness and are concerned about the 
state of the world would have the right to be heard in the con- 
duct of the business of the republic. However, this exclusion 
from politics should not be derogatory, since a political elite is 

280 On Revolution 

by no means identical with a social or cultural or professional 
elite. The exclusion, moreover, would not depend upon an out- 
side body; if those who belong are self-chosen, those who do not 
belong are self-excluded. And such self-exclusion, far from being 
arbitrary discrimination, would in fact give substance and reality 
to one of the most important negative liberties we have enjoyed 
since the end of the ancient world, namely, freedom from 
politics, which was unknown to Rome or Athens and which is 
politically perhaps the most relevant part of our Christian 

This, and probably much more, was lost when the spirit of 
revolution - a new spirit and the spirit of beginning something 
new - failed to find its appropriate institution. There is nothing 
that could compensate for this failure or prevent it from becom- 
ing final, except memory and recollection. And since the store- 
house of memory is kept and watched over by the poets, whose 
business it is to find and make the words we live by, it may be 
wise to turn in conclusion to two of them (one modern, the other 
ancient) in order to find an approximate articulation of the 
actual content of our lost treasure. The modern poet is Rene 
Char, perhaps the most articulate of the many French writers 
and artists who joined the Resistance during the Second World 
War. His book of aphorisms was written during the last year of 
the war in a frankly apprehensive anticipation of liberation; for 
he knew that as far as they were concerned there would be not 
only the welcome liberation from German occupation but libera- 
tion from the 'burden' of public business as well. Back they 
would have to go to the Spaisseur triste of their private lives and 
pursuits, to the 'sterile depression* of the pre-war years, when it 
was as though a curse hung over everything they did : 'If I sur- 
vive, I know that I shall have to break with the aroma of these 
essential years, silently reject (not repress) my treasure.' The 
treasure, he thought, was that he had 'found himself , that he 
no longer suspected himself of 'insincerity', that he needed no 
mask and no make-believe to appear, that wherever he went he 
appeared as he was to others and to himself, that he could afford 
'to go naked'. 100 These reflections are significant enough as they 
testify to the involuntary self-discourse, to the joys of appearing 

The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure 281 

in word and -deed without equivocation and without self- 
reflection that are inherent in action. And yet they are perhaps 
too 'modern', too self-centred to hit in pure precision the centre 
of that 'inheritance which was left to us by no testament'. 

Sophocles in Oedipus at ColonuSj the play of his old age, 
wrote the famous and frightening lines : 

Mf| (pflvcu tov ckavTa vi- 
Ka ^6yov. to 8' friei (pavfl, 
Pnvai xeta' 6rt60ev nep ii- 
K£i ttoXu 8euTepov wc, idxioia. 

'Not to be born prevails over all meaning uttered in words; by 
far the second-best for life, once it has appeared, is to go as 
swiftly as possible whence it came.' There he also let us know, 
through the mouth of Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens 
and hence her spokesman, what- it was that enabled ordinary 
men, young and old, to bear life's burden : it was the polis, the 
space of men's free deeds and living words, which could endow 
life with splendour - t6v Piov ^aujipdv TtoieiaGai. 


Introduction. War and Revolution 

i. The only discussion of the war question I know of which 
dares to face both the horrors of nuclear weapons and the threat 
of totalitarianism, and is therefore entirely free of mental reser- 
vation, is Karl Jaspers' The Future of Mankind, Chicago, 1961. 

2. See Raymond Aron, 'Political Action in the Shadow of 
Atomic Apocalypse', in The Ethics of Power, edited by Harold 
D. Lasswell and Harlan Cleveland^ New York, 1962. 

3. De Maistre in his Considerations sur la France, 1796, thus 
replied to Condorcet, who had defined counter-revolution as 
'une revolution au sens contraire'. See his Sur le sens du mot 
revolutionnaire (1793) in CEuvres, 1847-9, vol. XII. 

Historically speaking, both conservative thought and reac- 
tionary movements derive not only their most telling points 
and their elan but their very existence from the event of the 
French Revolution. They have remained derivative ever since 
in the sense that they have hardly produced a single idea or 
notion that was not primarily polemical. This, incidentally, 
is the reason conservative thinkers have always excelled in 
polemics, while revolutionaries, to the extent that they too 
developed an authentically polemical style, learned this part 
of their trade from their opponents. Conservatism, and neither 
liberal nor revolutionary thought, is polemical in origin and 
indeed almost by definition. 

Chapter One. The Meaning of Revolution 

1. Classicists have been aware of the fact that 'our word 
"revolution" docs not exactly correspond to either ot&ctic, or 

284 Notes 

jieraPoWi itoJtueCov' (W. L. Newman, The Politics of Aristotle, 
Oxford, 1887-1902). For a detailed discussion, see Heinrich 
RyfTel, MetaboU Politeion, Bern, 1949. 

2. See his Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law 
(1765), Works* 1850-6", vol. Ill, p. 452. 

3. It is for this reason that Polybius says that the transforma- 
tion of governments from one to another comes about kclt& 
qtCoiv, in accordance with nature. Histories, VI. 5.1. 

4. For a discussion of the influence of the American Revolu- 
tion on the French Revolution of 1789, see Alphonse Aulard, 
'Revolution francaise, et revolution americaine* in Etudes et 
lecons sur la Revolution francaise, vol. VIII, 1921. For Abbe* 
Raynal's description of America, see Tableau et revolutions des 
colonies anglaises dans YAmerique du Nord, 1781. 

5. John Adams's A Defense of the Constitutions of Govern- 
ment of the United States of America was written in reply to 
Turgot's attack in a letter to Dr Price in 1778. The issue at 
stake was Turgot's insistence on the necessity of centralized 
power against the Constitution's separation of power. See 
especially Adams's Treliminary Observations', in which he 
quotes extensively from Turgot's letter. WorJ(s, vol. IV. 

6. Of J. Hector St John de Crevecceur, Letters from an 
American Farmer (1782), Dutton paperback, 1957, see especially 
letters III and XII. 

7. I am paraphrasing the following sentences from Luther's 
De Servo Arbitrio (Werfe, edition Weimar, vol. XVIII, p. 626): 
'Fortunam constantissimam verbi Dei, ut ob ipsum mundus 
tumultuetur. Sermo enim Dei venit mutaturus et innovaturus 
orbem. quotiens venit.* The most permanent fate of God's word 
is that for its sake the world is put into uproar. For the sermon of 
God comes in order to change and revive the whole earth to the 
extent that it reaches it.* 

8. By Eric Voegelin in A New Science of Politics, Chicago, 
1952; and by Norman Cohn in The Pursuit of Millennium, Fair 
Lawn, N. J., 1947. 

9. Polybius VI. 9.5 and XXXI. 23-5.1, respectively. 

10. Condorcet, Sur le sens du mot rivolutionnoire, (Euvres, 
1847-9, vol. XII. 

Chapter One 2 g* 

ii. I am following the famous paragraphs in which Herodotus 
defines - it seems for the first time - the chief three forms of 
government, rule by one, rule by the few, rule by the many, and 
discusses their merits (Book III, 80-2). There tne spokesman 
for Athenian democracy, which, however, is called isonomy, 
declines the kingdom which is offered him and gives as his 
reason: 'I want neither to rule nor to be ruled.' Whereupon 
Herodotus states that his house became the only free house in 
the whole Persian Empire. 

12. For the meaning of isonomy and its use in political 
thought, see Victor Ehrenberg, 'Isonomia 1 , in Pauly-Wissowa, 
Realenzy^lopadie des Mlassischen Altertums, Supplement, vol. 
VII. Especially telling seems a remark of Thucydides (III, 82,8), 
who notes that party leaders in factional strife liked to call them- 
selves by 'fair-sounding names*,™ some preferring to invoke 
isonomy and some moderate aristocracy, while, as Thucydides 
implies, the former stood for democracy and the latter for 
oligarchy. (I owe this reference to the kind interest of Professor 
David Grene of Chicago University.) 

13. As Sir Edward Coke put it in 1627: 'What a word is that 
franchise? The lord may tax his villain high or low; but it is 
against the franchise of the land for freemen to be taxed, but by 
their consent in parliament. Franchise is a French word, and in 
Latin it is Libertas.' Quoted from Charles Howard Mcllwain, 
Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern, Ithaca, 1940. 

14. In this and the following, I follow Charles E. Shattuck, 
'The True Meaning of the Term "Liberty" ... in the Federal 
and State Constitutions . . .*, Harvard Law Review, 1891. 

15. See Edward S. Corwin, The Constitution and What It 
Means Today, Princeton, 1958, p. 203. 

16. Thus Jefferson in The Anas, quoted from Life and Selec- 
ted Writings, Modern Library edition, p. 117. 

17. The quotations are from John Adams, op. cit. {Wor\s, 
vol. IV, p. 293), and from his remarks 'On MachiavehT (Worfa 
vol. V, p. 40), respectively. 

18. The Prince, chapter 15. 

19. See (Euvres, ed. Laponneraye, 1840, vol. 3, p. 540. 

20. This sentence occurs, it seems, for the first time in Gino 

286 Notes 

Capponi's Ricordi of 1420: 'Faites membres de la Balia des 
hommes experimentes, et aimant leur commune plus que leur 
propre bien et plus que leur ame.' (See Machiavelli, CEuvre* 
completes, ed. Pleiades, p. 1535.) Machiavelli uses a similar ex- 
pression in the Histories of Florence, III, 7, where he praises 
Florentine patriots who dared to defy the Pope, showing thus 
'how much higher they placed their city than their souls'. He 
then applies the same expression to himself at the end of his 
life, writing to his friend Vettori : 'I love my native city more 
than my own soul' (Quoted from The Letters of Machiavelli, 
ed. Allan Gilbert, New York, 1961, no. 225.) 

We, who no longer take for granted the immortality of the 
soul, are apt to overlook the poignancy of Machiavelli's credo. 
At the time he wrote, the expression was no cliche but meant 
literally one was prepared to forfeit an everlasting life or to risk 
the punishments of hell for the sake of one's city. The question, 
as Machiavelli saw it, was not whether one loved God more 
than the world, but whether one was capable of loving the 
world more than one's own self. And this decision indeed has 
always been the crucial decision for all who devoted their lives 
to politics. Most of Machiavelli's arguments against religion are 
directed against those who love themselves, namely their own 
salvation, more than the world; they are not directed against 
those who really love God more than they love either the 
world or themselves. 

21. In Letters, op. cit., no. 137. 

22. I am following the recent book of Lewis Mumford, The 
City in History, New York, 1961, which develops the extremely 
interesting and suggestive theory that the New England village 
is actually 'a happy mutation' of the medieval town, that 'the 
medieval order renewed itself, as it were, by colonization' in 
the New World, and that while 'the multiplication of cities 
ceased' in the Old World, 'that activity was largely transferred 
between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries to the New 
World'. (See pp. 328 rr. and p. 356.) 

23. See The Discourses, Book I, 11. On the point of Machia- 
velli's place in Renaissance culture, I am inclined to agree with 
J. H. Whitfield, who, in his book Machiavelli, Oxford, 1947, p. 

Chapter One 2 g- 

18, points out: Machiavelli 'does not represent the double de- 
generacy of both politics and culture. He represents instead the 
culture that is born of humanism becoming aware of political 
problems because they are at a crisis. It is because of this that he 
seeks to solve them from the elements with which humanism 
had endowed the western mind.' For the men of the eighteenth- 
century revolutions, however, it was no longer 'humanism' 
which sent them to the ancients in search of a solution for their 
political problems. For a detailed discussion of this question, 
see Chapter Five. 

24. The word comes from the Latin status ret publicae, 
whose equivalent is 'form of government' in which sense we 
find it still in Bodin. Characteristic is that the stato ceases to 
mean 'form' or one of the possible 'states' of the political realm, 
and instead comes to mean that underlying political unity of a 
people that can survive the coming and going not only of govern- 
ments but also of forms of government. What Machiavelli had 
in mind was of course the nation-state, that is, the fact, which is 
a matter of course only to us, that Italy, Russia, China, and 
France, within their historic boundaries, do not cease to exist 
together with any given form of government. 

25. In this whole chapter I have used rather extensively the 
work of the German historian Karl Griewank, which unfortu- 
nately is not yet available in English. His earlier article 
'Staatsumwalzung und Revolution in der AufTassung der 
Renaissance und Barockzeit', which appeared in the Wissen- 
schaftliche Zeitschrift der FriedrichSchiller-Universitat Jena, 
1952-3, Heft I, and his later book Der neuzeitliche Revolu- 
tionsbegriff, 1955, supersede all other literature on the subject. 

26. See 'Revolution' in the Oxford English Dictionary. 

27. Clinton Rossiter, The First American Revolution, New 
York, 1956, p. 4. 

28. LAncien Regime, Paris, 1953, vol. II, p. 72. 

29. In the 'Introduction' to the second part of Rights of Man. 

30. See Fritz Schulz, Prinzipien des romischen Rechts y Ber- 
lin, 1954, p. 147. 

31. Griewank, in the article cited in note 25, notes that the 
phrase 'This is a revolution' was first applied to Henri IV of 

288 Notes 

France and his conversion to Catholicism. He quotes as evi- 
dence Hardouin de Perefixe's biography of Henri IV (Histoire 
du roy Henri le grand, Amsterdam, 1661), which comments on 
the events of the spring of 1594 with the following words : the 
Governor of Poitiers vpyant quil ne pout/ait pas empecher cette 
revolution, s'y laissa entrainer et composa avec le Roy. As Grie- 
wank himself points out, the notion of irresistibility is here still 
strongly combined with the originally astronomic meaning of a 
movement that 'revolves' back to its point of departure. For 
'Hardouin considered all these events as a return of the French 
to their prince naturel* Nothing of the sort could be meant by 

32. Robespierre's words, spoken on 17 November 1793, at the 
National Convention, which I have paraphrased, read as fol- 
lows : 'Les crimes de la tyrannie accelererent les progres de la 
liberte, et les progres de la liberte multiplierent les crimes de la 
tyrannie . . . une reaction continuelle dont la violence progres- 
sive a opere en peu d'annees l'ouvrage de plusieurs siecles.' 
CEuvres, ed. Laponneraye, 1840, vol. Ill, p. 446. 

33. Quoted from Griewank's book, op. cit., p. 243. 

34. In his speech of 5 February 1794, op. cit., p. 543. 

35. The Federalist (1787), ed. Jacob E. Cooke, Meridian, 1961, 
no. 11. 

36. Quoted from Theodor Schieder, 'Das Problem der Revo- 
lution im 19. Jahrhundert', Historische Zeitschrift, vol. 170, 

37. See 'Author's Introduction* to Democracy in America: 'A 
new science of politics is needed for a new world.' 

38. Griewank - in his article cited in note 25 - noticed the 
role of the spectator in the birth of a concept of revolution: 
'Wollen wir dem Bewusstsein des revolutionaren Wandels in 
seiner Entstehung nachgehen, so linden wir es nicht so sehr bei 
den Handelnden selbst wie bei ausserhalb der Bewegung ste- 
henden Beobachtern zuerst klar erfasst.' He made this discovery 
probably under the influence of Hegel and Marx, although he 
applies it to the Florentine historiographers - wrongly, I think, 
because these histories were written by Florentine statesmen and 
politicians. Neither Machiavelli nor Guicciardini was a specta- 

Chapter Two 289 

tor in the sense in which Hegel and other nineteenth-century 
historians were spectators. 

39. For Saint-Just's and incidentally also Robespierre's stand 
on these matters, see Albert Ollivier, Saint-Just et la force des 
choses, Paris, 1954. 

40. Quoted from Edward S. Corwin, The "Higher Law'* 
Background of American Constitutional Law', in Harvard Law 
Review, vol. 42, 1928. 

41. Tocqueville, op. cit., vol. II, Fourth Book, chapter 8. 

42. This attitude is in striking contrast to the conduct of the 
revolutionaries in 1848. Jules Michelet writes: 'On s'identifiait 
a ces lugubres ombres. L'un etait Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Dan- 
ton, un autre Robespierre.' In Histoire de la rSvolution fran- 
caise, 1868, vol. I, p. 5. 

Chapter Two. The Social Question 

1. (Euvres, ed. Laponneraye, 1840, vol. 3, p. 514. 

2. A 'Declaration of the Rights of Sans-Culottes' was proposed 
by Boisset, a friend of Robespierre. See J. M. Thompson, Robes- 
pierre, Oxford, 1939, p. 365. 

3. Le But de la Revolution est le bonheur du peuple, as the 
manifest of Sans-Culottism proclaimed it in November 1793. 
See no. 52 in Die Sans\ulotten von Paris. Dofytmente zur Ge~ 
schichte der Vol\sbewegung 1793-1794, ed. Walter Markov and 
Albert Soboul, Berlin (East), 1957. 

4. James Monroe in J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Con- 
ventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution . . ., vol. 
3, 1861. 

5. Both quotations are drawn from Lord Acton, Lectures on 
the French Revolution (1910), Noonday paperback edition, 1959. 

6. In a letter from Paris to Mrs Trist, 18 August 1785. 

7. Jefferson in a letter from Paris to Mr Wythe, 13 August 
1786; John Adams in a letter to Jefferson, 13 July 1813. 

8. In a letter to John Adams, 28 October 1813. 

9. Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791), Everyman's 
Library edition, pp. 48, 77. 

290 Notes 

10. John Adams, Discourses on Vavila, Wor\s t Boston, 1851, 
vol. VI, p. 280. 

11. ibid., pp. 267 and 279. 

12. ibid., pp. 239-40. 

13. ibid., p. 234. 

14. Quoted from D. Echeverria, Mirage in the West: A His- 
tory of the French Image of American Society to 1815, Prince- 
ton, 1957, p. 152. 

15. See Jefferson, 'A Bill for the More General Diffusion of 
Knowledge' of 1779 and his 'Plan for an Educational System* 
of 1814, in The Complete Jefferson, edited by Saul K. Padover, 
1943, pp. 1048 and 1065. 

16. A recent study of the opinions of working-class men on 
the subject of equality by Robert E. Lane - The Fear of 
Equality' in American Political Science Review, vol. 53, March 
1959 - for instance, evaluates the lack of resentment on the part 
of the working man as 'fear of equality', their conviction that the 
rich are not happier than other people as an attempt 'to take 
care of a gnawing and illegitimate envy', their refusal to disre- 
gard their friends if they came into money as lack of 'security', 
et cetera. The short essay manages to turn every virtue into a 
hidden vice - a tour de force in the art of hunting for non-exist- 
ent ulterior motives. 

17. Robespierre, (Euvres completes, ed. G. Laurent, 1939, 
vol. IV; Le Defenseur de la constitution (1792), no. 11, p. 328. 

18. Le peuple was identical with menu or petit peuple, and it 
consisted of 'small businessmen, grocers, artisans, workers, em- 
ployees, salesmen, servants, day labourers, lumpenproletariern 9 
but also of poor artists, play-actors, penniless writers'. See Wal- 
ter Markov, 'Uber das Ende der Pariser Sansculottenbewegung', 
in Beitrage zum neuen Geschichtsbild, zum 60. Geburtstag von 
Alfred Meusel, Berlin, 1956. 

19. Robespierre in 'Adresse aux Franc, ais' of July 1791, quoted 
from J. M. Thompson, op. cit., 1939, P* 1 7^> 

20. ibid., p. 365, and speech before the National Convention of 
February 1794. 

21. See Du contrat social (1762), translated by G. D. H. Cole, 
New York, 1950, Book II, chapter 3. 

Chapter Two 2 q! 

22. ibid., Book II, chapter i. 

23. Albert Ollivier, Saint-Just et la force des choses, Paris, 
1954, p. 203. 

24. This sentence contains the key to Rousseau's concept of 
the general will. The fact that it appears merely in a footnote 
(op. cit., II, 3) shows only that the concrete experience from 
which Rousseau derived his theory had become so natural to 
him that he hardly thought it worth mentioning. For this 
rather common difficulty in the interpretation of theoretical 
works, the empirical and very simple background to the com- 
plicated general-will concept is quite instructive, since very few 
concepts in political theory have been surrounded with a mysti- 
fying aura of so much plain nonsense. 

25. The classical expression of this revolutionary version of 
republican virtue can be found in -Robespierre's theory of magis- 
tracy and popular representation, which he himself summed up 
as follows: 'Pour aimer la justice et l'egalite le peuple n'a pas 
besoin d'une grande vertue; il lui suffit de s'aimer lui-meme. 
Mais le magistrat est oblige d'immoler son interet a l'interet du 
peuple, et Porgueil du pouvoir a 1'egalite. ... II faut done que le 
corps representatif commence par soumettre dans son sein toutes 
les passions privees a la passion generale du bien public. . . .' 
Speech to the National Convention, 5 February 1794; see 
(Euvres, ed. Laponneraye, 1840, vol. Ill, p. 548., 

26. For Rousseau, see Discours sur Vorigine de VinigalitS 
parmi les hommes (1755), translated by G. D. H. Cole, New 
York, 1950, p. 226. Saint-just is quoted from Albert Ollivier, op. 
cit., p. 19. 

27. R. R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror 
in the French Revolution, Princeton, 1941, from which the 
words of Robespierre are quoted (p. 265), is, together with 
Thompson's biography, mentioned earlier, the fairest and most 
painstakingly objective study of Robespierre and the men 
around him in recent literature. Palmer's book especially is an 
outstanding contribution to the controversy over the nature of 
the Terror. 

28. Quoted from Zoltan Haraszti, John Adams and the 
Prophets of Progress, Harvard, 1952, p. 205. 

292 Notes 

29. Rousseau, A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p. 

30. The documents of the Parisian sections, now first pub- 
lished in a bilingual edition (French-German) in the work 
quoted in note 3, are full of such and similar formulations. I 
have quoted from no. 57. Generally speaking, one may say that 
the more bloodthirsty the speaker the more likely that he will 
insist on ces tendres auctions de I'dme - on the tenderness of 
his soul. 

31. Thompson (op. cit., p. 108) recalls that Desmoulins told 
Robespierre as early as 1790, 'You are faithful to your principles, 
however it may be with your friends.' 

32. To give an instance, Robespierre, speaking on the subject 
of revolutionary government, insisted: 'II ne s'agit point 
d'entraver la justice du peuple par des formes nouvelles; la loi 
penale doit necessairement avoir quelque chose de vague, parce 
que le caractere actuel des conspirateurs etant la dissimulation et 
l'hypocrisie, il faut que la justice puisse les saisir sous toutes les 
formes.' Speech in the National Convention, 26 July 1794; 
(Euvres, ed. Laponneraye, vol. Ill, p. 723. About the problem of 
hypocrisy with which Robespierre justified the lawlessness of 
popular justice, see below. 

33. The phrase occurs as a principle in the 'Instruction to the 
Constituted Authorities' drawn up by the temporary commis- 
sion charged with the administration of revolutionary law in 
Lyons. Characteristically enough, the Revolution here was ex- 
clusively made for 'the immense class of the poor'. See Markov 
and Soboul, op. cit., No. 52. 

34. Crevecceur, Letters from an American Farmer (1782), 
Dutton paperback edition, 1957, Letter 3. 

35. In a letter to Madison from Paris of 16 December 1786. 

36. The Federalist (1787), ed. Jacob E. Cooke, Meridian, 1961, 
no. 10. 

37. R. R. Palmer, op. cit., p. 163. 

38. Quoted from Lord Acton, op. cit., Appendix. 

39. The lack of factual evidence for Beard's famous theory has 
recently been demonstrated by R. E. Brown, Charles Beard and 
the Constitution, Princeton, 1956, and by Forrest McDonald, We 

Chapter Two 293 

the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution, Chicago, 

40. The quotations from La Rochefoucauld's Maxims are 
given in the recent translation by Louis Kronenberger, New 
York, 1959. 

41. J. M. Thompson once calls the Convention during the time 
of the Reign of Terror 'an Assembly of political play-actors' (op. 
cit., p. 334), a remark probably suggested not only by the 
\rhetoric of the speakers but also by the number of theatrical 

42. Although the etymological root of persona seems to derive 
from per-zonare, from the Greek £©vn, and hence to mean 
originally 'disguise', one is tempted to believe that the word 
carried for Latin ears the significance of per-sonare, 'to sound 
through', whereby in Rome the voice that sounded through the 
mask was certainly the voice of the ancestors rather than the 
voice of the individual actor. 

43. See the very illuminating discussion by Ernest Barker in 
his Introduction to the English translation of Otto Gierke's 
Natural Law and the Theory of Society 1500 to 1800, Cam- 
bridge, 1950, pp. lxx ff. 

44. ibid., p. lxxiv. 

45. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Preface. 

46. Lord Acton, op. cit., chapter 9. 

47. ibid., chapter 14. 

48. Robespierre in his speech to the National Convention on 
17 November 1793, (Euvres, ed. Laponneraye, 1840, vol. Ill, p. 


49. The Hungarian Revolution was also unique in that the 
Gettysburg Address was broadcast to the people during the 
rebellion. See Janko Musulin in his introduction to Prolrfama- 
tionen der Freiheit, von der Magna Charta bis zur ungarischen 
Vol\serhebung, Frankfurt, 1959. 

50. Acton, op. cit., chapter 9. 

51. Democracy in America, vol. II, chapter 20. 

294 Notes 

Chapter Three. The Pursuit of Happiness 

i. I am paraphrasing the following passage in the Esprit des 
his (Book VIII, chapter 8): 'La plupart des peuples d'Europe 
sont encore gouvernes par les moeurs. Mais si par un long abus 
du pouvoir, si, par une grande conquete, le despotisme s'etablis- 
sait a un certain point, il n'y aurait pas de mceurs ni de climat 
qui tinssent; et, dans cette belle partie du monde, la nature 
humaine souffrirait, au moins pour un temps, les insultes qu'on 
lui fait dans les trois autres.' 

2. Hume is quoted from Wolfgang H. Kraus, 'Democratic 
Community and Publicity', in Nomos (Community), vol. II, 
1959; Burke is quoted from Lord Acton, Lectures on the French 
Revolution, 2nd lecture. 

3. L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution (1856), (Euvres com- 
pletes, Paris, 1952, p. 197. 

4. In a letter to Niles, 14 January 181 8. 

5. In a letter to the Abbe Mably, 1782. 

6. Discourses on Davila, Worlds, Boston, 1851, vol. VI, pp. 

7. John Adams especially was struck by the fact that 'the self- 
styled philosophers of the French Revolution' were like 'monks' 
and 'knew very little of the world'. (See Letters to John Taylor 
on the American Constitution (1814), Wor\s, vol. VI, p. 453 ff.) 

8. J. M. Thompson, Robespierre, Oxford, 1939, pp. 53-4. 

9. See Wolfgang H. Kraus, op. cit., an excellent and illumin- 
ating paper, which I did not know when this book was first 

10. Cicero, De Natura Deorum I, 7 and Academica I, 11. 

ii. Tocqueville, op. cit., p. 195, speaking about la condition des 
icrivains and their eloignement presque infini ... de la pra- 
tique, insists: 'L' absence complete de toute liberte politique 
faisait que le monde des affaires ne leur etait pas seulement mal 
connu, mais invisible.' And after describing how this lack of 
experience made their theories more radical, he stresses ex- 
plicitly : 'La meme ignorance leur livrait Poreille et le cceur de 
la foule.' Kraus, op. cit., shows that over all of western and cen- 

Chapter Three 2 ge 

tral Europe a new 'curiosity about public affairs' spread not only 
among the 'intellectual elite' but also among the lower orders 
of the people. 

12. The 'happiness' of the king's subjects presupposed a king 
who would take care of his kingdom as a father would his 
family; as such, it ultimately derived, in the words of Black- 
stone, from a 'creator [who] . . . has graciously reduced the rule 
of obedience to this one paternal precept, "that man should pur- 
sue his own happiness" '. (Quoted from Howard Mumford 
Jones, The Pursuit of Happiness, Harvard, 1953.) Clearly, this 
right guaranteed by a father on earth could not have survived 
the transformation of the body politic into a republic. 

13. See A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 
1774, in The Life and Selected Writings, Modern Library edi- 
tion, p. 293 ff. 

14. Interesting in this respect is the Scottish moral philoso- 
pher Adam Ferguson (in his Essay on the History of Civil 
Society, 3rd ed., 1768), who, writing on the proper order in civil 
society, sounds very much like John Adams. The notion of 
order, he remarks, 'being taken from the analogy of subjects 
inanimate and dead, is frequently false. . . . The good order of 
stones in a wall is their being properly fixed in the places for 
which they are hewn; were they to stir, the building must fall: 
but the good order of men in society is their being placed where 
they are properly qualified to act. . . . When we seek in society 
for the order of mere inaction and tranquillity, we forget the 
nature of our subject and find the order of slaves, not that of 
free men.' Quoted from Wolfgang H. Kraus, op. cit. (italics 

15. In the important letter on the 'republics of the wards' to 
Joseph C. Cabell, 2 February 1816. ibid., p. 661. 

16. See James Madison in The Federalist, no. 14. How felici- 
tous Jefferson's pen was may be seen by the fact that his newly 
found 'right' came to be included in 'approximately two-thirds 
of the state constitutions between 1776 to 1902', regardless of the 
fact that, then as now, it was 'by no means easy to know what 
either Jefferson or the committee meant by the pursuit of happi- 
ness'. It is tempting indeed to conclude with Howard Mumford 

296 Notes 

Jones, from whose monograph I have quoted, that 'the right to 
pursue happiness in America had as it were, grown up in a fit 
of absence of mind. . . .* 

17. Jones, op. cit., p. 16. 

18. Clinton Rossiter, The First American Revolution, New 
York, 1956, pp. 229-30. 

19. Vernon L. Parrington calls it 'the primary principle of 
[Jefferson's] political philosophy, that the "care of human life 
and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only 
legitimate object of good government" '. Main Currents in 
American Thought, Harvest Books edition, vol. I, p. 354. 

20. These are the words of John Dickinson, but there was 
generally a consensus in theory among the men of the American 
Revolution on this subject. Thus, even John Adams would argue 
that 'the happiness of society is the end of government ... as 
the happiness of the individual is the end of man' (in 'Thoughts 
on Government', Wor\s, 1851, vol. IV, p. 193), and they all 
would have agreed with Madison's famous formula: 'If men 
were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were 
to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on govern- 
ment would be necessary' (The Federalist, no. 51). 

21. In a letter to Madison, 9 June 1793. op. cit., p. 523. 

22. Thus John Adams, in a letter to his wife from Paris in 
1780, gives a curious twist to the old hierarchy when he writes: 
M must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty 
to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study 
mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and 
naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in 
order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, 
music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain' (Worfa 
vol. II, p. 68). 

George Mason, the principal author of the Virginia Declara- 
tion of Rights, sounds more convincing when he exhorts his 
sons in his last will 'to prefer the happiness of a private station 
to the troubles and vexations of public business', although one 
can never be quite sure in view of the enormous weight of tra- 
dition and convention against the 'meddling' in public affairs, 
ambition, and love of glory. It probably needed nothing less than 

Chapter Three 297 

John Adams's boldness of mind and character to break through 
the cliches of 'the blessings of a private station' and to own up 
to one's own very different experiences. (For George Mason, see 
Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792, 
vol. I, p. 166.) 

23. See Jefferson's letter to John Adams, 5 July 1814, in The 
Adams-Jefferson Letters, ed. L. J. Cappon, Chapel Hill, 1959. 

24. See Carl L. Becker in the Introduction to the second edi- 
tion of his The Declaration of Independence, New York, 1942. 

25. See Jefferson's letter to Henry Lee, 8 May 1825. 

26. It was not a foregone conclusion that the revolutions would 
end with the establishment of republics, and even in 1776 a 
correspondent to Samuel Adams could still write: 'We now 
have a fair opportunity of choosing what form of government 
we think proper, and contract with any nation we please for a 
king to reign over us.' See William S. Carpenter, The Develop' 
ment of American Political Thought, Princeton, 1930, p. 35. 

27. See letter quoted in note 25. 

28. Adam-Jefferson, op. cit., letter of 11 April 1823, p. 594. 

29. See the letter to Madison quoted in note 21. 

30. For Thomas, see Sum ma Theologica I qu. 1, 4 c and qu. 
12, 1 c. Also, ibid., 1 2, qu. 4, 8 o. 

31. Tocqueville, Ancien Regime, chapter 3. 

32. In his address to the National Convention on 'The Princi- 
ples of Revolutionary Government*. See CEuvres, ed. Lappone- 
raye, 1840, vol. III. For the translation into English, I have used 
Robert R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, Princeton, 1958. 

33. That these words of Madison seem to echo John Adams's 
awareness of the role 'the passion for distinction' must play in a 
body politic is no more than an indication of how large the area 
of agreement between the Founding Fathers actually was. 

34. See Letter XII, 'Distresses of a Frontier Man', in the Let- 
ters from an American Farmer (1782), Dutton paperback edition, 


35. The strain of lawlessness, violence, and anarchy was as 
strong in America as in other colonial countries. There is the 
famous story which John Adams relates in his autobiography 
{Wor\s, vol. II, pp. 420-21) : he met a man, 'a common horse 

298 Notes 

jockey . . . who was always in the law, and had been sued in 
many actions at almost every court. As soon as he saw me, he 
came up to me, and his first salutation to me was, "Oh 1 Mr 
Adams what great things have you and your colleagues done for 
us ! We can never be grateful enough to you. There are no 
courts of justice now in the province, and I hope there never will 
be another.** ... Is this the object for which I have been contend- 
ing? said I to myself . . . Are these the sentiments of such people, 
and how many of them are there in the country? Half the 
nation for what I know; for half the nation are debtors, if not 
more, and these have been, in all countries, the sentiments of 
debtors. If the power of the country should get into such hands, 
and there is great danger that it will, to what purpose have we 
sacrificed our time, health, and everything else? Surely we must 
guard against this spirit and these principles, or we shall repent 
our conduct.' This story happened in 1775, and the point of the 
matter is that this spirit and these principles disappeared be- 
cause of war and revolution, the best test of the issue being the 
ratification of the Constitution by debtors. 

36. See 'On the Advantages of a Monarchy* in James Feni- 
more Cooper's The American Democrat (1838). 

37. Edward S. Corwin in Harvard Law Review, vol. 42, p. 395. 

38. Thus Madison in The Federalist, no. 45. 

39. In the words of John Adams, in Discourses on Davila, 
Wor\s, 1851, vol. VI, p. 233. 

40. Ancien Rigime, loc. cit. 

41. See note 32. 

42. In Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution, Balti- 
more, 1822, p. 404. 

- 43. See Robert R, Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolu- 
tion, Princeton, 1959, P' 2I0 > 

44. Such was the verdict of Parrington. There is, however, an 
excellent essay by Clinton Rossiter, 'The Legacy of John Adams* 
(Yale Review, 1957), which - written with insight and love for 
the man - does more than justice to this strangest figure of the 
Revolution. 'In the realm of political ideas, he had no master - 
and I would think no peer - among the founding fathers.* 

45. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859). 

Chapter Four 2 ^p 

Chapter Four. Foundation I: Constitutio Libertatis 

i. There is perhaps nothing more detrimental to an under- 
standing of revolution than the common assumption that the 
revolutionary process has come to an end when liberation is 
achieved and the turmoil and the violence, inherent in all wars of 
independence, have come to an end. This view is not new. In 
1787, Benjamin Rush complained that c there is nothing more 
common, than to confound the term of American revolution 
with those of the late American war. The American war is over: 
but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. 
On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is 
closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of 
government. 1 (In Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution, 
Baltimore, 1822, p. 402.) We may add that there still is nothing 
more common than to confound the travail of liberation with 
the foundation of freedom. 

2. These fears were expressed in 1765, in a letter to William 
Pitt in which Dickinson had voiced his assurance that the colo- 
nies would win a war against England. See Edmund S. Morgan, 
The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789, Chicago, 1956, p. 136. 

3. In a letter to James Madison of 20 December 1787. 

4. It is seldom recognized and of some importance that, to 
put it in Woodrow Wilson's words, *power is a positive thing, 
control a negative thing', and that 'to call these two things by 
the same name is simply to impoverish language by making one 
word serve for a variety of meanings' (An Old Master and Other 
Political Essays, 1893, p. 91). This confusion of the power to 
act with the right to control the 'organs of initiative' is of a 
somewhat similar nature as the previously mentioned confusion 
of liberation with freedom. The quotation in the text is from 
James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat (1838). 

5. The latter is the view of Carl Joachim Friedrich, Constitu- 
tional Government and Democracy, revised edition, 1950. For 
the former - that 'the clauses in our American constitutions are 
. , . mere copies of the thirty-ninth article of Magna Charta' - 
see Charles £. Shattuck, The True Meaning of the Term 

300 Notes 

"Liberty" in the Federal and State Constitutions*, Harvard Law 
Review, 1891. 

6. Quoted from Charles Howard Mcllwain, Constitutional- 
ism, Ancient and Modern, Ithaca, 1940. Those who wish to see 
this matter in historical perspective may recall the fate of Locke's 
constitution for Carolina, which was perhaps the first such con- 
stitution framed by an expert and then offered to a people. 
William C. Morey's verdict, 'It was created out of nothing, and 
it soon relapsed into nothing', has been true for almost all of 
them ('The Genesis of a Written Constitution', in American 
Academy of Politics and Social Science, Annals I, April 1891). 

7. The best study of this kind of constitution-making is Karl 
Loewenstein's 'Verfassungsrecht und Verfassungsrealitat (in 
Beitrage zur Staatssoziologie, Tubingen, 1961), which I regret 
not having consulted for the original edition of this book. 
Loewenstein's paper deals with the 'flood of constitutions' after 
the Second World War, of which only a few were ratified 
by the people. He emphasizes 'the deep distrust of the people' in 
these constitutions, which, in the hands of 'relatively small 
groups of experts and specialists', have for the most part become 
'means to an end*, instruments for 'obtaining or maintaining 
the special privileges of various groups or classes whose interests 
they serve*. 

8. Or, phrased somewhat differently: 'A constitution is a 
thing antecedent to a government, and a government is only 
the creature of a constitution.' Both phrases occur in the second 
part of The Rights of Man. 

9. According to Morgan, op. cit., 'Most states allowed their 
provincial congresses to assume the task of drafting a constitu- 

* tion and putting it into effect. The people of Massachusetts seem 
to have been the first to see the danger of this procedure ... 
Accordingly a special convention was held in 1780 and a con- 
stitution established by the people acting independently of gov- 
ernment . . . Though by this time it was too late for the states 
to use it, the new method was shortly followed in creating a 
government for the United" States* (p. 91). Even Forrest 
McDonald, who holds that the state legislatures were 'circum- 
vented' and ratifying conventions elected because 'ratification 

Chapter Four - 0I 

would [have been] much more difficult ... if the Constitution 
had to overcome the machinations ... of the legislatures 1 , con- 
cedes in a footnote: 'In point of legal theory, ratification by 
state legislatures would be no more binding than any other laws 
and could be repealed by subsequent legislatures.* See We the 
People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution, Chicago, 
1958, p. 114. 

10. Quoted from Zoltan Haraszti, John Adams and the 
Prophets of Progress, Cambridge, Mass., 1952, p. 221. 

11. See The Federalist, no. 51. 

12. These are the words of a Pennsylvanian, and 'Pennsyl- 
vania, the most thoroughly cosmopolitan colony, had almost as 
many people of English descent as of all other nationalities put 
together.' See Clinton Rossiter, The First American Revolution, 
New York, 1956, pp. 20 and 228. 

13. Even in the early sixties, 'James Otis envisaged the trans- 
formation within the British constitution of the common-law 
rights of Englishmen into the natural rights of man, but he also 
saw these natural rights as limitations upon the authority of 
government.' William S. Carpenter, The Development of 
American Political Thought, Princeton, 1930, p. 29. 

14. On the perplexities, historical and conceptual, of the 
Rights of Man, see the extensive discussion in the author's 
Origins of Totalitarianism, revised edition, New York, 1958, 
pp. 290-302. 

15. The words are Benjamin Rush's in Niles, op. cit., p. 402. 

16. No other passage from the 'divine writings* of the 'great 
Montesquieu 1 is more frequently quoted in the debates than the 
famous sentence about England : 'II y a aussi une nation dans le 
monde qui a pour objet direct de sa constitution la liberte* 
politique' (Esprit des his, XI, 5). For the enormous influence of 
Montesquieu on the course of the American Revolution, see 
especially Paul Merrill Spurlin, Montesquieu in America, 1760- 
1801, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1940, and Gilbert Chinard, The 
Commonplace Bool( of Thomas Jefferson, Baltimore and Paris, 

17. Montesquieu distinguishes between philosophic freedom, 
which consists 'in the exercise of will* (Esprit des his XII, 2), 

302 Notes 

and political freedom, which consists in pouvoir faire ce que Yon 
doit vouloir (ibid., XI, 3), whereby the emphasis is on the word 
pouvoir. The element of power in political freedom is strongly 
suggested by the French language, in which the same word, 
pouvoir, signifies power and 'to be able*. 

18. See Rossiter, op. cit., p. 231, and 'The Fundamental 
Orders of Connecticut' of 1639 in Documents of American His- 
tory, ed. Henry Steele Commager, New York, 1949, 5th edition. 

19. The sentence occurs in XI, 4 and reads as follows : 'Pour 
qu'on ne puisse abuser du pouvoir, il faut que, par la disposition 
des choses, le pouvoir arrete le pouvoir.' At first glance, even in 
Montesquieu this seems to mean no more than that the power of 
the laws must check the power of men. But this first impression 
is misleading, for Montesquieu does not speak of laws in the 
sense of imposed standards and commands but, in full agree- 
ment with the Roman tradition, understands by laws les rap- 
ports qui se trouvent entte \une raison primitive] et les dif- 
fer en ts etres, et les rapports de ces divers etres entre eux (I, 1). 
Law, in other words, is what relates, so that religious law is 
what relates man to God and human law what relates men to 
their fellow men. (See also Book XXVI, where the first para- 
graphs of the whole work are treated in detail.) Without divine 
law there would be no relation between man and God, without 
human law the space between men would be a desert, or rather 
there would be no in-between space at all. It is within, this 
domain of rapports^ or lawfulness, that power is being exerted; 
non-separation of power is not the negation of lawfulness, it is 
the negation of freedom. According to Montesquieu, one could 
very well abuse power and stay within the limits of the law; the 
need for limitation - la vertu meme a besoin de limites (XI, 4) - 
arises out of the nature of human power, and not out of an an- 
tagonism between law and power. 

Montesquieu's separation of power, because it is so intimately 
connected with the theory of checks and balances, has often 
been blamed on the scientific, Newtonian spirit of the time. Yet 
nothing could be more alien to Montesquieu than the spirit of 
modern science. This spirit, it is true, is present in James Har- 
rington and his 'balance of property', as it is present in Hobbes; 

Chapter Four 203 

no doubt this terminology drawn from the sciences carried even 
then a great deal of plausibility - as when John Adams praises 
Harrington's doctrine for being 'as infallible a maxim in poli- 
tics as that action and reaction are equal in mechanics'. Still, one 
may suspect that it was precisely Montesquieu's political, non- 
scientific language which contributed much to his influence; at 
any rate, it was in a non-scientific and non-mechanical spirit 
and quite obviously under the influence of Montesquieu that 
Jefferson asserted that 'the government we fought f or . . . should 
not only be founded on free principles' (by which he meant the 
principles of limited government), 'but in which the powers of 
government should be so divided and balanced among several 
bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal 
limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the 
others/ Notes on the State of Virginia, query XIII. 

20. Esprit des lois XI, 4 and 6. 

21. Thus, James Wilson held that 'a Federal Republic ... as 
a species of government . . . secures all the internal advantages 
of a republic; at the same time that it maintains the external 
dignity and force of a monarchy' (quoted from Spurlin, op. cit., 
p. 206). Hamilton, The Federalist^ no. 9, arguing against the 
opponents of the new Constitution who, 'with great assiduity, 
cited and circulated the observations of Montesquieu on the 
necessity of a contracted territory for a republican government', 
quoted at length from L'Esprit des lois to show that Montes- 
quieu 'explicitly treats of a Confederate Republic as the expedi- 
ent for extending the sphere of popular government, and recon- 
ciling the advantages of monarchy with those of republicanism/ 

22. From Haraszti, op. cit., p. 219. 

23. Such notions, of course, were also quite current in 
America. Thus John Taylor of Virginia argued against John 
Adams as follows : 'Mr Adams considers our division of power 
as the same principle with his balance of power. We consider 
these principles as opposite and inimical . . . Our principle of 
division is used to reduce power to that degree of temperature 
which may make it a blessing and not a curse ... Mr Adams 
contends for a government of orders, as if power would be a 
safe sentinel over power, or the devil over Lucifer . . / (See 

304 Notes 

William S. Carpenter, op. cit.) Taylor, because of his mistrust 
-in power, has been called the philosopher of Jeffersonian de- 
mocracy; however, the truth of the matter is that Jefferson, no 
less than Adams or Madison, emphatically held that it was the 
balancing of powers and not the division of power which was 
the proper remedy for despotism. 

24. See Edward S. Corwin, 'The Progress of Constitutional 
Theory between the Declaration of Independence and the Meet- 
ing of the Philadelphia Convention', American Historical Re- 
view, vol. 30, 1925. 

25. The Federalist, no. 14. 

26. Madison in a letter to Jefferson, 24 October 1787, in Max 
Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention of ij8j, New 
Haven, 1937, vol. 3, p. 137. 

27. For Hamilton, see note 21; for Madison, The Federalist, 
no. 43. 

28. James Wilson, commenting on Montesquieu's Federal Re- 
public, explicitly mentions that 'it consists in assembling distinct 
societies which are consolidated into a new body, capable of 
being increased by the addition of other members - an expand- 
ing quality peculiarly fitted to the circumstances of America* 
(Spurlin, op. cit., p. 206). 

29. Thus Ernst Kantorowiz in 'Mysteries of State: An Ab- 
solute Concept and Its Late Medieval Origin', Harvard Theo- 
logical Review, 1955. 

30. 'La nation', said Sieves, 'existe avant tout, elle est l'origine 
de tout. Sa volonte est toujours legale, elle est la Loi elle-meme.* 
*Le gouvernement n'exerce un pouvoir reel qu'autant qu'il est 
constitutionnel ... La volonte nationale, au contraire, n'a besoin 
que de sa realite pour etre toujours legale, elle est l'origine de 
toute legaliteV See Quest-ce que le Tiers-ttat? 2nd edition, 
1789, pp. 79, 82 ff. 

31. Ernst Kantorowicz, The Kings Two Bodies: A Study in 
Medieval Theology, Princeton, 1957, p. 24. 

32. Edward S. Corwin, in 'The "Higher Law" Background of 
American Constitutional Law', Harvard Law Review, vol. 42, 
1928, p. 152, remarks as follows : 'The attribution of supremacy 
to the Constitution on the ground solely of its rootage in popu- 

Chapter Four - - 

lar will represents ... a comparatively late outgrowth of Ameri- 
can constitutional theory. Earlier the supremacy accorded to 
constitutions was ascribed less to their putative source than to 
their supposed content, to their embodiment of essential and 
unchanging justice.' 

33. Benjamin Hitchborn, who is thus quoted by Niles, op. cit., 
p. 27, sounds very French indeed. It is curious to note, however, 
that he started by saying, 'I define civil liberty to be, not "a gov- 
ernment by laws", . . . but a power existing in the people at 
large'; in other words, he too, like practically all Americans, 
draws a clear distinction between law and power and therefore 
realizes that a government resting solely on the power in the 
people can no longer be called a government by laws. 

34. See Merrill Jensen, 'Democracy and the American Revo- 
lution', Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. XX, no. 4, 1957. 

35. Niles, op. cit., p. 307. 

36. Sieves, op. cit., p. 81. 

37. Quoted from Corwin, op. cit., p. 407. 

38. ibid., p. 170. 

39. See Sieves, op. cit., especially pp. 83 ff. 

40. For Sieves, see the Seconde partie of op. cit., 4th edition, 
1789, p. 7. 

41. We know, of course, too many examples from recent his- 
tory even to begin the enumeration of instances of this type of 
democracy in the original sense of majority rule. It may there- 
fore be enough to remind the reader that the curious claim of 
the so-called 'people's democracy' from behind the Iron Curtain 
to represent true democracy as against the constitutional and 
limited government of the Western world could be justified on 
these grounds. The political, though no longer physical, liquida- 
tion of the losing minority in all conflicts is current practice 
within the Communist parties; more importantly, the very 
notion of one-party rule rests on majority rule - the seizure of 
power through the party which at a given moment was able to 
achieve an absolute majority. 

42. Jefferson, currently held to have been the most democratic 
of the founders, spoke quite frequently and eloquently of the 
dangers of Elective despotism* when 'one hundred and seventy- 

306 Notes 

three despots would surely be as oppressive as one' (op. cit., loc. 
cit.). And Hamilton noted early that 'the members most tena- 
cious of republicanism were as loud as any in declaiming against 
the vices of democracy'. See William S, Carpenter, op. cit., p. 77. 

43. That there existed a few isolated instances in which reso- 
lutions were passed to the effect that 'the whole procedure of the 
Congress was unconstitutional', and that 'when the Declaration 
of Independence took place, the Colonies were absolutely in a 
state of nature', is of course no argument against this. For the 
resolutions of some New Hampshire towns, see Jensen, op. cit. 

44. In the letter to Jefferson of 24 October 1787, quoted in 
note 26. 

45. Winton U. Solbcrg, in his introduction to The Federal 
Convention and the Formation of the Union of the American 
States, New York, 1958, rightly stresses that the Federalists 
'wished definitely to subordinate the states, but they did not, 
with two exceptions, desire to destroy the states' (p. cii). Madi- 
son himself once said 'he would preserve the State rights as 
carefully as the trials by jury' (ibid., p. 196). 

46. Tocqueville, Democracy in America, New York, 1945, 
vol. I, p. 56. The extraordinary degree of political articulation of 
the country may be realized by the fact that there were more 
than 550 such towns in New England alone in 1776. 

47. The bad-weather theory, which I find rather suggestive, is 
contained in the 'Massachusetts' article in the Encyclopaedia 
Britannica, nth edition, vol. XVII. For the perhaps more prob- 
able alternative, see the introduction to the 'Mayflower Com- 
pact' in Commager, op. cit. 

48. The important distinction between states that are sovereign 
and those that are 'only political societies' was made by Madison 
in a speech in the Federal Convention. See Solberg, op. cit., p. 
189, note 8. 

49. See the 'Fundamental Orders of Connecticut 1 of 1639 and 
'The New England Confederation' of 1643 in Commager, op. 

50. Benjamin F. Wright - especially in the important article 
'The Origins of the Separation of Powers in America* in Econo- 
mica, May 1933 - has argued in a similar vein that 'the framers 

Chapter Four -^ 

of the first American constitutions were impressed by the separa- 
tion of powers theory only because their own experience . . . con- 
firmed its wisdom'; and others have followed him. Sixty or 
seventy years ago, it was almost a matter of course for American 
scholarship to insist on an unbroken, autonomous continuity of 
American history culminating in the Revolution and the estab- 
lishment of the United States. Since Bryce had related the 
American constitution-making to the royal colonial charters by 
which the earliest English settlements were established, it had 
been current to explain the origin of a written constitution as 
well as the unique emphasis on statutory legislation by the fact 
that the colonies were subordinate political bodies, which de- 
rived from trading companies and were capable of assuming 
powers only so far as delegated by special grants, patents, and 
charters. (See William C. Morey's 'The First State Constitu- 
tions' in Annals of the American Academy of Political and 
Social Science , September 1893, vol. IV, and his essay on the 
Written Constitution, quoted in Note 6.) Today this approach 
is much less common, and the emphasis on European influences, 
British or French, is more widely accepted. There are various 
reasons for this shift in emphasis in American historical scholar- 
ship, among them the strong recent influence of the history of 
ideas, which obviously directs its attention to intellectual pre- 
cedent rather than to political event, as well as the slightly older 
abandonment of isolationist attitudes. All this is quite interest- 
ing but of no great relevance in our context. What I should like 
to underline here is that the importance of royal or company 
charters seems to have been stressed at the expense of the far 
more original and more interesting covenants and compacts 
which the colonists made amongst themselves. For it seems to 
me that Merrill Jensen - in his more recent article, op. cit. - is 
entirely right when he states : 'The central issue in seventeenth- 
century New England . . . was the source of authority for the 
establishment of government. The English view was that no 
government could exist in a colony without a grant of power 
from the crown. The opposite view, held by certain English 
dissenters in New England, was that a group of people could 
create a valid government for themselves by means of a coven- 

308 Notes 

ant, compact, or constitution. The authors of the Mayflower 
Compact and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut operated 
on this assumption ... It is the basic assumption of the Declara- 
tion of Independence, a portion of which reads much like the 
words of Roger Williams written 132 years earlier.' 

51. Quoted from Solberg, op. cit., p. xcii. 

52. Thus Rossiter, op. cit., p. 132. 

53. The uniqueness of the Mayflower Compact was stressed 
time and again in this period of American history. Thus, James 
Wilson, referring to it in a lecture in 1790, reminds his audience 
that he is presenting 'what, as to the nations in the Transatlantic 
world, must be searched for in vain - an original compact of 
a society, on its first arrival in this section of the globe*. And the 
early histories of America are still quite explicitly insisting on 'a 
spectacle . . . which rarely occurs, of contemplating a society in 
the first moment of its political existence', as the Scottish his- 
torian William Robertson put it. See W. F. Craven, The Legend 
of the Founding Fathers, New York, 1956, pp. 57 and 64. 

54. See especially op. cit., Section 131. 

55. See the Cambridge Agreement of 1629 in Commager, op. 

56. In these words, John Cotton, Puritan minister and 'The 
Patriarch of New England' in the first half of the seventeenth 
century, raised his argument against democracy, a government 
not fit 'either for church or commonwealth*. Here and in the 
following, I try to avoid as much as possible a discussion of the 
relationship between Puritanism and American political institu- 
tions. I believe in the validity of Clinton Rossiter's distinction 
'between Puritans and Puritanism, between the magnificent 
autocrats of Boston and Salem and their inherently revolutionary 
way of life and thought' (op. cit., p. 91), the latter consisting in 
their conviction that even in monarchies God c referreth the 
sovereigntie to himselfe' and their being 'obsessed with the 
covenant or contract'. But the difficulty is that these two tenets 
are somehow incompatible, the notion of covenant presupposes 
no-sovereignty and no-rulership, whereas the belief that God 
retains his sovereignty and refuses to delegate it to any earthly 
power 'setteth up Theocracy ... as the best form of govern- 

Chapter Four ~qq 

ment', as John Cotton rightly concluded. And the point of 
the matter is that these strictly religious influences and move- 
ments, including the Great Awakening, had no influence what- 
soever on what the men of the Revolution did or thought. 

57. Rossiter, op. cit., loc. cit. 

58. A magnificent example of the Puritan notion of covenant 
is contained in a sermon by John Winthrop, written aboard the 
Arbella on the way to America : 'Thus stands the cause between 
God and us, we are entered into Covenant with him for this 
work, we have taken out a Commission, the Lord hath given us 
leave to draw our own Articles, we have professed to enterprise 
these actions upon these and these ends, we have hereupon be- 
sought him of favor and blessing : Now if the Lord shall please 
to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then 
hath he ratified this Covenant and sealed our Commission' 
(quoted from Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The 
Seventeenth Century, Cambridge, Mass., 1954, p. 477). 

59. Thus in the Cambridge Agreement of 1629, drafted by 
some of the leading members of the Massachusetts Bay Com- 
pany before they embarked for America. Commager, op. cit. 

60. The seemingly similar language in the famous Bund der 
Waldstatte of 1291 in Switzerland is misleading; no 'Civil Body 
Politick' arose out of these 'mutual promises', no new institu- 
tions, and no new laws. 

61. See Thoughts on Government (1776), Wor\s y Boston, 1851, 
IV, 195. 

62. This is from the Plantation agreement at Providence, 
which founded the town of Providence in 1640 (Commager, op. 
cit.). It is of special interest as the principle of representation is 
found here for the first time, and also because those who were 
*so betrusted' agreed 'after many Considerations and Consulta- 
tions of our owne State and also of States abroad in way of 
government' that no form of government would be so 'suitable 
to their Condition as government by way of Arbitration*. 

63. Thus in the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut of 1639 
(Commager, op. cit.), which Bryce {American Commonwealth, 
vol. I, p. 414, note) has called 'the oldest truly political constitu- 
tion in America'. 

310 Notes 

64. The 'final adieu to Britain' occurs in the Instructions from 
the Town of Maiden, Massachusetts, for a Declaration of Inde- 
pendence, 27 May 1776 (Commager, op. cit.). The fierce lan- 
guage of these instructions, the town renouncing 'with disdain 
our connexion with a kingdom of. slaves', shows how right 
Tocqueville was when he traced the origin of the American 
Revolution to the spirit of the townships. Interesting for the 
popular strength of republican sentiment throughout the states 
is also Jefferson's testimony in The Anas, 4 February 1818 (The 
Complete Jefferson, ed. Saul Padover, New York, 1943, p. 
1206 ff.); it shows very convincingly that if 'the contests of that 
day were contests of principle between the advocates of repub- 
lican and those of kingly government*, it was the republican 
opinions of the people that eventually settled the difference of 
opinion among the statesmen. How strong republican senti- 
ments were even before the Revolution because of this unique 
American experience is evident in John Adams's early writings. 
In a series of papers written in 1774 for the Boston Gazette, he 
wrote : The first planters of Plymouth were "our ancestors" in 
the strictest sense. They had no charter or patent for the land 
they took possession of; and derived no authority from the 
English parliament or crown to set up their government. They 
purchased land of the Indians, and set up a government of their 
own, on the simple principle of nature; ... and [they] con- 
tinued to exercise all the powers of government, legislative, 
executive, and judicial, upon the plain ground of an original 
contract among independent individuals. 1 (My italics.) See 
Novanglus, Wor\s, vol. IV, p. no. 

65. This is' from a resolution of Freeholders of Albemarle 
County, Virginia, 26 July 1774, which was drafted by Jefferson* 
The royal charters are mentioned almost as an afterthought, and 
the curious term character of compact', which reads like a con- 
tradiction in terms, shows clearly that it was compact, and not 
charter, that Jefferson had in mind (Commager, op. cit.). And 
this insistence on compact at the expense of royal or company 
charters is by no means a consequence of revolution. Almost ten 
years before the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Frank- 
lin argued 'that parliament was so far from having a hand in 

Chapter Five ^ lt 

the work of original settlement that it actually took no kind of 
notice of them, till many years after they were established' 
(Craven, op. cit., p. 44). 

66. Merrill Jensen, op. cit. 

Oj. This is from the Massachusetts Circular Letter, protest- 
ing the Townshend Acts of 11 February 1768, drafted by 
Samuel Adams. According to Commager, these addresses to 
the British Ministry present 'one of the earliest formulations of 
the doctrine of fundamental law in the British constitution'. 

68. From the Instructions of the Town of Maiden (note 64). 

69. As the Virginia Instructions to the Continental Congress 
of 1 August 1774 put it (Commager, op. cit.). 

Chapter Five, Foundation 11: Novus Ordo Saeclorum 

1. In the words of Pietro Verri referring to the Austrian ver- 
sion of enlightened absolutism under the rule of Maria Theresa 
and Joseph II, quoted from Robert Palmer, The Age of Demo- 
cratic Revolution, Princeton, 1959, p. 105. 

2. I am aware that I disagree here with Robert Palmer's im- 
portant book, which I have quoted. My own obligations to Mr 
Palmer's work are great, and my sympathy with his main thesis 
of an Atlantic civilization, 'a term probably closer to reality in 
the eighteenth century than in the twentieth' (p. 4), is even 
greater. Still, it seems to me that he does not see that one of the 
reasons for this qualification is the different outcome of revolu- 
tion in Europe and America. And this different outcome is 
primarily due to the utter difference of the 'constituted bodies' 
in the two continents. Whatever constituted bodies there may 
have existed in Europe prior to the revolutions - estates, parlia- 
ments, privileged orders of all kinds - were indeed part and par- 
cel of the old order and were swept aside by the Revolution; 
whereas in America, on the contrary, it was the old constituted 
bodies of the colonial period which were, so-to speak, liberated 
by the revolution. This distinction seems to me so decisive that 
I am afraid it is somewhat misleading to use even the same 
term, 'constituted bodies', for the townships and colonial assemb- 

3" Notes 

lies on one side and the feudal European institutions with their 
privileges and liberties on the other. 

3. Quoted from Palmer, op. cit., p. 322. 

4. Sur le sens du mot r6volutionnaire (1793). See (Euvres, 
1847-9, vol. XII. 

5. Rousseau in a letter to the Marquis de Mirabeau, 26 July 

6. See J. M. Thompson, Robespierre, Oxford, 1939, p. 489. 

7. In the Preamble to The Report of a Constitution or Form 
of Government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts', 1779. 
Wor\s, Boston, 1851, vol. IV. It is still in this sense that Justice 
Douglas said : 'We are a religious people whose institutions pre- 
suppose a Supreme Being* (quoted from Edward S. Corwin, 
The Constitution and Whatsit Means Today, Princeton, 1958, p. 


8. Civil Government, Treatise I, section 86, and Treatise II, 
section 20. 

9. In the Dissertation on Canon and Feudal haw. 

10. In A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the 
United States of America, 1778, Wor\s, vol. IV, p. 291. 

11. Hence the highest praise accorded to an ancient legislator 
was that his laws were so admirably framed that one could 
hardly believe that they were not made by a god. This is usually 
said of Lycurgus (see especially Polybius VI, 48. 2). The source 
of Adams's error probably was Plutarch, who tells how Lycurgus 
was assured at Delphi 'that the constitution he was about to 
establish should be the best in the world'; Plutarch also relates 
that Solon received an encouraging oracle from Apollo. To be 
sure, Adams read his Plutarch with Christian eyes, for nothing 
in the text permits the conclusion that either Solon or Lycurgus 
was divinely inspired. 

Much closer to the truth in this matter than John Adams was 
Madison when he found it 'not a little remarkable that in every 
case reported by ancient history, in which government has been 
established with deliberation and consent, the task of framing it 
has not been committed to an assembly of men, but has been 
performed by some individual citizen of pre-eminent wisdom 
and approved integrity' (The Federalist, no. 38). This was true 

Chapter Five ^ Z n 

at least for Greek antiquity, although it may be doubtful that 
the reason 'the Greeks . . . should so far abandon the rules of 
caution as to place their destiny in the hands of a single citizen* 
was that 'the fears of discord . . . exceeded the appreciation of 
treachery or incapacity in a single individual' (ibid.). The fact is 
that lawmaking did not belong among the rights and duties of 
a Greek citizen; the act of laying down the law was considered 
to be pre-political. 

12. Thus Cicero says explicitly about the legislator : Nee leges 
imponit populo quibus ipse non parent - 'And he does not im- 
pose laws on the people which he himself would not obey' - in 
De Re Publica I 52. 

13. In the words of F. M. Cornforth, From Religion to Phi- 
losophy (1912), Torchbooks edition, chapter I, p. 30. 

14. It would lead me too far to discuss the matter in detail. It 
seems as though Plato's famous word in the Laws, 'A god is the 
measure of all things', may indicate a 'higher Law' behind man- 
made laws. I think this is an error, and not only for the obvious 
reason that measure (metron) and law are not the same. For 
Plato, the true object of laws is not so much to prevent injustice 
as to improve the citizens. The standard for good and bad laws 
is entirely utilitarian: what makes citizens better than they 
were before is a good law, what leaves them as they were is in- 
different and even superfluous, and what makes them worse is 

15. Robespierre's 'extraordinary idea' is contained in Le D6- 
fenseur de la Constitution (1792), no. 11, see (Euvres completes, 
ed. G. Laurent, 1939, v °l* ^V, p. 333. The comment is quoted 
from Thompson, op. cit., p. 134. 

16. Aeneid, Book VII, Modern Library edition, p. 206. 

17. Livy III, 31.8. 

18. Esprit des lois, Book I, chapters 1-3. Compare also the 
first chapter of Book XXVI. The fact that the Constitution holds 
that not only 'the laws of the United States' but also 'all treaties 
made . . . under the authority of the United States, shall be the 
supreme law of the land', indicates to what an extent the 
American concept of law harks back to the Roman lex and to 
the original experiences of compacts and agreements. 

314 Notes 

19. Natural law in Roman antiquity was by no means a 
'higher law'. On the contrary, the Roman jurists 'must haVe 
thought of natural law as inferior rather than superior to the 
law in force' (Ernst Levy, 'Natural Law in the Roman Period', 
in Proceedings of the Natural Law Institute of Notre Dame, vol. 

II, 1948). 

20. Se Adams's draft for a Constitution of Massachusetts, op. 

21. Thompson, op. cit., p. 97. 

22. L'idee de l'Etre Supreme et de l'immortalite de l'dme est 
un rappel continuel a la justice; elle est done sociale et republi- 
caine.' See Robespierre's speech to the National Convention, 7 
May 1794, CEuvres, ed. Laponneraye, 1840, vol. Ill, p. 623. 

23. Discourses on Davila, Wor\s, vol. VI, p. 281. Robespierre, 
in the speech just quoted, speaks in almost the same terms: 
'Quel avantage trouves-tu a persuader a l'homme qu'une force 
aveugle preside a ses destins, et frappe au hasard le crime et la 

24. Robespierre, op. cit., loc. cit. 

25. In his draft preamble to the Virginia Bill for Establishing 
Religious Freedom. 

26. See his L'Ordre naturel et essentiel des societes politiques 
(1767), I, ch. XXIV. 

27. Thomas Paine's remark in Rights of Man, Part II : John 
Adams's in A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of 
the United States (1778), Wor\s, vol. IV, p. 439. James Wilson's 
prediction quoted from W. F. Craven, The Legend of the Found- 
ing Fathers, New York, 1956, p. 64. 

28. Both Adams's and Wilson's remarks are quoted from Ed- 
ward S. Corwin, The "Higher Law" Background of American 
Constitutional Law', in Harvard Law Review, vol. 42, 1928. 

29. The Federalist, no. 16. 

30. ibid., no. 78. 

31. ibid., no. 50. 

32. As quoted in Corwin's book, op. cit., p. 3. 

33. Cicero, op. cit., I, 7, 12. 

34. In 'Discourse on Reforming the Government of Florence', 
in The Prince and Other Worlds, Chicago, 1941. 

Chapter Five - x - 

35. It was chiefly their preoccupation with the stability of re- 
publican government that led seventeenth- and eighteenth- 
century writers into their frequent enthusiasm for Sparta. 
Sparta, at that time, was supposed to have lasted longer than 
even Rome. 

36. See Martin Diamond, 'Democracy and The Federalist: 
A Reconsideration of the Framers' Intent', American Political 
Science Review, March 1959. 

37. The Federalist, nos. 14 and 49. 

38. Thus John Adams in Thoughts on Government (1776), 
Worlds, vol. IV, p. 200. 

39. Thus 'Milton believed in heaven-sent, divinely appointed 
great leaders ... as deliverers from bondage and tyranny like 
Samson, as institutors of liberty like Brutus, or as great teachers 
like himself, not as all-powerful -executives in a settled and 
smoothly functioning mixed state. In Milton's scheme of things, 
great leaders make their appearance on the stage of history and 
play their proper roles in times of transition from bondage to 
freedom* (Zera S. Fink, The Classical Republicans, Evanston, 
1945, p. 105). The same is of course true for the settlers them- 
selves. 'The basic reality in their life was the analogy with the 
children of Israel. They conceived that by going out into the 
wilderness they were reliving the story of Exodus', as Daniel J. 
Boorstin rightly stresses in The Americans, New York, 1958, 
p. 19. 

40. It would be tempting to use the American example as the 
historical demonstration of the old legendary truth, and to inter- 
pret the colonial period as the transition from bondage to free- 
dom, as the hiatus between leaving England and the Old World, 
and the foundation of freedom in the New World. The tempta- 
tion is all the stronger as the parallel with the legendary tales is 
so very close because, here again, the new event and the new 
foundation seem to have come about through the extraordinary 
deeds of exiles. On this, Virgil insists no less than the biblical 
tales - 'After it pleased heaven's lords to overthrow . . . Priam's 
guiltless people, and Ilium fell, ... we are driven by divine 
omens to seek distant places of exile in waste lands (Aencid, III, 
1-12; here and in the following, I am quoting the translation 

316 Notes 

of J. W. Mackail, Virgil's Worfa Modern Library edition). 
The reasons why I think it would be wrong to interpret Ameri- 
can history in this light are obvious. The colonial period is by 
no means a hiatus in American history, and for whatever rea- 
sons the British settlers might have left their homes, once they 
had arrived in America they had no trouble in recognizing 
the rule of England and the authority of the mother country. 
They were no exiles; on the contrary, they prided themselves on 
being British subjects up to the last moment. 

41. De Re Publica VI, 12. See also Viktor Poeschl, Rdmischer 
Staat und griechisches Staatsden\en bei Cicero, Berlin, 1936. 

42. Discourses upon the First Decade of T. Livius ... 1, 9. 

43. The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656), quoted from the 
Liberal Arts edition, p. 43. 

44. ibid., p. no. 

45. ibid., p. in. (Incidentally, 'prudence' in seventeenth- and 
eighteenth-century political literature does not mean 'caution* 
but signifies 'political insight', whereby it depends upon the 
author whether this insight indicates also wisdom, or science, or 
moderation. The word itself is neutral.) For the influence of 
Machiavelli upon Harrington and the influence of the ancients 
upon seventeenth-century English thought, see the excellent 
study by Zera S. Fink, as quoted in note 39. It is unfortunate 
indeed that a similar study 'to evaluate exactly the influence of 
the ancient philosophers and historians upon the formulation of 
the American system of Government', which Gilbert Chinard 
proposed (in 1940 in his essay on 'Polybius and the American 
Constitution' in the Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. I), has 
never been undertaken. The reason seems to be that nobody is 
interested any longer in forms of government - a subject the 
Founding Fathers themselves were most passionately concerned 
with. Such a study - rather than the impossible attempt at in- 
terpreting American early history in terms of European social 
and economic experiences - would demonstrate that 'the Ameri- 
can experiment had more than local and circumstantial value; 
that it was in fact a sort of culmination, and that, to understand 
... it, it is necessary to realize that the most modern form of 

Chapter Five „_ 

government is not unconnected with the political thought and 
the political experience of ancient times.' 

46. Harrington, Oceana, op. cit., p. no. 

47. 'Die Romer hielten sich nicht fuer Romuliden, sondern 
fuer Aineiaden, ihre Penaten stammten nicht aus Rom, sondern 
aus Lavinium.' 'Die romische Politik bediente sich seit dem 3. 
Jahrhundert v. Chr. des Hinweises auf die troische Herkunft 
der Romer.' For a discussion of this whole question, see St. 
Weinstock, 'Penates', in Pauly-Wissowa, Realenzyttfopadie des 
1(lassischen Altertums. 

48. Virgil, Aeneid, XII, 166, and I, 68. Ovid (in Fasti IV, 251) 
speaks about the Trojan origin of Rome in almost identical lan- 
guage : Cum Troiam Aeneas Italos portaret in agros - 'Aeneas 
carries Troy onto Italic soil'. 

49. Aeneid, I, 273; see also I, 206,-and III, 86-7. 

50. ibid., IX, 742. 

51. ibid., VII, 321-2. 

52. ibid., XII, 189. It may be of some importance to note how 
far Virgil carries his inversion of Homer's story. There is, for 
instance, in the second book of the Aeneid a repetition of the 
scene in the Odyssey where Ulysses, unrecognized, listens to the 
recital of his own life story and its sufferings and now, for the 
first time, bursts into tears. In the Aeneid, it is Aeneas himself 
who tells his story; he does not weep but expects his listeners to 
shed tears of compassion. Needless to add that this inversion, in 
contrast to those we cited in the text, is meaningless; it destroys 
the original meaning without setting something else, of equal 
weight, in its place. The reversal itself is all the more note- 

53. The fourth Eclogue has always been understood as the 
expression of a widespread religious yearning for salvation. Thus 
Eduard Norden, in his classic essay Die Geburt des Kindes, Ge- 
schichte einer religiosen Idee, 1924, which offers a line-by-line 
interpretation of Virgil's poem, reads into W. Bousset, Kyrios 
Christos, Gottingen, 1913, about the expectancy of salvation 
through an absolutely new beginning (pp. 228 if.), a kind of 
paraphrase of its chief thought (p. 47). I follow Norden's trans- 

318 Nqtes 

lation and commentary, but I doubt the religious significance of 
the poem. For a more recent discussion, see Giinther Jachmann, 
'Die Vierte Ekloge Vergils', in Annali della Scuola Normale 
Superiore di Pisa, vol. XXI, 1952, and Karl Kerenyi, Vergil und 
Holderlin, Zurich, 1957. 

54. Georgica II, 323 ff. : prima crescentis origine tnundi. 

55. De Civitate, XII, 20. 

56. Norden states explicitly: 'Mit der Verbreitung der Isis- 
religion iiber grosse Teile der griechisch-romischen Welt wurde 
in ihr auch das "Kind" ... so bekannt und beliebt wie kaum 
irgend etwas sonst aus einer fremdlandischen Kultur', op. cit., 


57. In The Laws, book VI, 775. 

58. Polybius V 32.1. 'The beginning is more than half of the 
whole* is an ancient proverb, quoted as such by Aristotle, 
Nicomachean Ethics, 1198b. 

59. W. F. Craven, op. cit., p. 1. 

60. Oceana, edition Liljegren, Lund and Heidelberg, 1924, p, 
168. Zera Fink, op. cit., p. 63, notices that 'Harrington's pre- 
occupation with the perpetual state' often comes close to Platonic 
notions, and especially to the Laws, 'the influence of which on 
Harrington is indeterminable'. 

61. See The Federalist, no. 1. 

Chapter Six. The Revolutionary Tradition and 
Its Lost Treasure 

1. The most convincing evidence for the anti-theoretical bias 
in the men of the American Revolution can be found in the not 
very frequent but nevertheless very telling outbursts against 
philosophy and the philosophers of the past. In addition to Jef- 
ferson, who thought he could denounce 'the nonsense of Plato', 
there was John Adams, who complained of all the philosophers 
since Plato because 'not one of them takes human nature as it is 
for his foundation'. (See Zoltan Haraszti, John Adams and the 
Prophets of Progress, Cambridge, Mass., 1952, p. 258.) This 
bias, as a matter of fact, is neither anti-theoretical as such nor 

Chapter Six ^g 

specific to an American 'frame of mind'. The hostility between 
philosophy and politics, barely covered up by a philosophy of 
politics, has been the curse of Western statecraft as well as of 
the Western tradition of philosophy ever since the men of action 
and the men of thought parted company - that is, ever since 
Socrates* death. The ancient conflict is relevant only in the 
strictly secular realm and therefore played a minor role during 
the long centuries when religion and religious concerns domin- 
ated the political sphere; but it was only natural that it should 
have assumed renewed importance during the birth or the re- 
birth of an authentically political realm, that is, in the course of 
modern revolutions. 

For Daniel J. Boorstin's thesis, see The Genius of American 
Politics, Chicago, 1953, and especially his more recent The 
Americans: The Colonial Experiences New York, 1958. 

2. William S. Carpenter, The Development of American 
Political Thought, Princeton, 1930, noted rightly: 'There is no 
distinctively American political theory. . . . The aid of political 
theory was most frequently sought in the beginning of our insti- 
tutional development' (p. 164). 

3. The simplest and perhaps also the most plausible way to 
trace the failure to remember would be an analysis of American 
post-revolutionary historiography. It is true, 'what occurred after 
the Revolution was ... a shift of the focus [from the Puritans] 
onto the Pilgrims, with a transfer of all the virtues traditionally 
associated with the Puritan fathers to the more acceptable Pil- 
grims' (Wesley Frank Craven, The Legend of the Founding 
Fathers, New York, 1956, p. 82). However, this shift of focus 
was not permanent, and American historiography, unless it was 
altogether dominated by European and, especially, Marxist 
categories, and denied that a revolution had ever occurred in 
America, turned more and more to the pre-revolutionary stress 
on Puritanism as the decisive influence in American politics and 
morals. Quite apart from the merits of the case, this stubborn 
endurance may well be due, at least in part, to the fact that the 
Puritans, in contrast to the Pilgrims as well as to the men of the 
Revolution, were deeply concerned with their own history; they 
believed that, even if they should lose, their spirit would not be 

320 Notes 

lost so long as they knew how to remember. Thus Cotton 
Mather wrote : 'I shall count my Country lost in the loss of the 
Primitive Principles, and the Primitive Practices, upon which 
it was at first Established : But certainly one good way to save 
that Loss would be to do something . . . that the Story of the 
Circumstances attending the Foundation and Formation of this 
Country, and of its Preservation hitherto, may be impartially 
handed unto Posterity' (Magnalia, Book II, 8-9). 

4. How such guideposts for future reference and remembrance 
arise out of this incessant talk, not, to be sure, in the form of 
concepts but as single brief sentences and condensed aphorisms, 
may best be seen in the novels of William Faulkner. Faulkner's 
literary procedure, rather than the content of his work, is 
highly 'political', and, in spite of many imitations, he has re- 
mained, as far as I can see, the only author to use it. 

5. Wherever American political thought was committed to 
revolutionary ideas and ideals, it either followed in the wake of 
European revolutionary trends, springing from experience and 
interpretation of the French Revolution; or it succumbed to the 
anarchistic tendencies so conspicuous in the early lawlessness of 
the pioneers. (We may remind the reader once more of John 
Adams's story which we mentioned in note 35 to Chapter 
Three.) This lawlessness, as pointed out before, was actually 
anti-revolutionary, directed against the men of the Revolution. 
In our context, both so-called revolutionary trends can be 

6. In The Federalist, no. 43. 

7. In Democracy in America, vol. II, p. 256. 

8. Ever since the Renaissance, Venice had had the honour of 
validating the old theory of a mixed form of government, cap- 
able of arresting the cycle of change. How great the need for a 
belief in a potentially immortal City must have been may, per- 
haps, best be gauged by the irony that Venice became a model 
of permanence in the very days of her decay. 

9. See The Federalist, no. 10. 

10. Hamilton in Jonathan Elliot, Debates of State Conventions 
on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1861, vol. I, p. 422. 

11. The Federalist, no. 50. 

Chapter Six 221 

12. Of course, this is not to deny that the will occurred in the 
speeches and writings of the Founding Fathers. But compared 
with reason, passion, and power, the faculty of the will plays a 
very minor role in their thought and their terminology. Hamil- 
ton, who seems to have used the word more often than the others, 
significantly spoke of a permanent will' - actually a contradic- 
tion in terms - and meant by it no more than an institution 
'capable of resisting popular current'. (See Wor\s, vol. II, p. 
415.) Obviously what he was after was permanence, and the 
word 'will' is loosely used, since nothing is less permanent, and 
less likely to establish permanence, than the will. Reading such 
sentences in conjunction with the contemporary French sources, 
one will notice that in similar circumstances the French would 
have called not upon a 'permanent will' but upon the 'unani- 
mous will' of the nation. And theorise of such unanimity was 
precisely what the Americans sought to avoid. 

13. W. S. Carpenter, op. cit,, p. 84, ascribes this insight to 

14. The only precedent for the American Senate that comes to 
mind is the King's Council, whose function, however, was ad- 
vice and not opinion. An institution for advice, on the other 
hand, is conspicuously lacking in American government as laid 
down by the Constitution. Evidence that advice is needed in 
government, in addition to opinion, may be found in Roose- 
velt's and Kennedy's 'brain trusts'. 

15. For 'multiplicity of interests', see The Federalist, no. 51; 
for the importance of 'opinion', ibid., no. 49. 

16. This paragraph is mainly based on The Federalist, no. 10. 

17. ibid., no. 49. 

18. Harrington, Oceana, ed. Liljegren, Heidelberg, 1924, pp. 

19. In De Re Publica, III 23. 

20. John Adams in Dissertation on Canon and Feudal law. 

21. I am indebted to Zera Fink's important study The Clas- 
sical Republicans, Evanston, 1945, for the role the preoccupation 
with the permanence of the body politic played in the political 
thought of the seventeenth century. The importance of Fink's 
study lies in that he shows how this preoccupation transcended 

322 . Notes 

the care for mere stability, which can be explained by the reli- 
gious strife and the civil wars of the century. 

22. In Elliot, op. cit., vol. II, p. 364. 

23. See The Complete Jefferson, ed, Padover, Modern Lib- 
rary edition, pp. 295 ff. 

24. Thus Jefferson in a letter to William Hunter, 11 March 

25. In a letter to Samuel Kercheval, 12 July 1816. 

26. The two quotations from Paine are from Common Sense 
and the Rights of Man, respectively. 

27. In the famous letter to Major John Cartwright, 5 June 

28. The much-quoted words occur in a letter from Paris to 
Colonel William Stephens Smith, 13 November 1787. 

29. In later years, especially after he had adopted the ward 
system as 'the article nearest to my heart*, Jefferson was much 
more likely to speak of 'the dreadful necessity' of insurrection. 
(See especially his letter to Samuel Kercheval, 5 September 1816.) 
To blame this shift of emphasis - for it is not much more - on 
the changed mood of a much older man seems unjustified in 
view of the fact that Jefferson thought of his ward system as 
the only possible alternative to what otherwise would be a 
necessity, however dreadful. 

30. In this and the following paragraph, I am again quoting 
from Jefferson's letter to Samuel Kercheval, 12 July 18 16. 

31. See Emerson's Journal, 1853. 

32. See Lewis Mumford's The City in History, New York, 
1961, pp. 328 ff. 

33. William S. Carpenter, op. cit., pp. 43-7, notes the diver- 
gence between the English and colonial theories of the time 
with respect to representation. In England, with Algernon Sid- 
ney and Burke, 'the idea was growing that after representatives 
have been returned and had taken their seats in the House of 
Commons they ought not any longer to have a dependence 
upon those they represented*. In America, on the contrary, 'the 
right of the people to instruct their representatives [was] a 
distinguishing characteristic of the colonial theory of represen- 
tation'. In support, Carpenter quotes from a contemporary 

Chapter Six -„ 

Pennsylvanian source: The right of instruction lies with the 
constituents and them only, that the representatives are bound 
to regard them as the dictates of their masters and are not left at 
liberty to comply with them or reject them as they may think 

34. Quoted from Carpenter, op. cit., pp. 93-4. Present-day 
representatives, of course, have not found it any easier to read 
the minds and sentiments of those whom they represent. 'The 
politician himself never knows what his constituents want him 
to do. He cannot take the continuous polls necessary to discover 
what they want government to do/ He even has great doubts 
that such wants exist at all. For 'in effect, he expects electoral 
success from promising to satisfy desires which he himself has 
created'. See C. W. Cassinelli, The Politics of Freedom: An 
Analysis of the Modern Democratic State, Seattle, 1961, pp. 
41 and 45-6. 

35. See Carpenter, op. cit., p. 103. 

36. This, of course, is Jefferson's opinion of the matter which 
he expounded chiefly in letters. See especially the previously 
mentioned letter to W. S. Smith, 13 November 1787. About the 
'exercise of virtuous dispositions' and of 'moral feelings', he 
writes very interestingly in an early letter to Robert Skipwith 
on 3 August 1771. It is for him primarily an exercise in imagina- 
tion, hence the great taskmasters of such exercises are the poets 
rather than the historians, since 'the fictitious murder of Dun- 
can by Macbeth in Shakespeare 1 excites in us 'as great a horror of 
villainy, as the real one of Henry IV. It is through the poets 
that 'the field of human imagination is laid open to our use', a 
field that, if confined to real life, would contain too few memor- 
able events and acts - history's 'lessons would be too infrequent'; 
at any event, 'a lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more 
effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by read- 
ing King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics and divinity 
that ever were written'. 

37. In a letter to Colonel Edward Carrington, 16 January 1787. 

38. I am quoting from Robespierre's report to the Assembly 
on the rights of societies and clubs, 29 September 1791 (in 
(Euvres, ed. Lefebvre, Soboul, etc., Paris, 1950, vol. VII, no. 

324 Npies 

361); for the year 1793, 1 am quoting from Albert Soboul, 'Robes- 
pierre und die Volksgesellschaften', in Uaximilien Robespierre, 
Beitrdge zu seinem 200. Geburtstag, ed. Walter Markov, Berlin, 

39. See Soboul, op. cit. 

40. Quoted from the nth number of Le DSfenseur de la Con- 
stitution, 1792. See (Euvres completes, ed. G. Laurent, 1939, 
vol. IV, p. 328. 

41. The formulation is Leclerc's as quoted in Albert Soboul, 
'An den Urspriingen der Volksdemokratie : Politische Aspekte 
der Sansculottendemokratie im Jahre IF, in Beitrdge zum 
neuen Geschichtsbild: Festschrift fur Alfred Meusel, Berlin, 

42. Quoted from Soboul, 'Robespierre und die Volksgesell- 
schaften', op. cit. 

43. Die Sans\ulotten von Paris: Do\umente zur Geschichte 
der Vol\sbewegung 1793-1794, ed. Walter Markov and Albert 
Soboul, Berlin (East), 1957. The edition is bilingual. In the fol- 
lowing, I quote chiefly from nos. 19, 28, 29, 31. 

44. ibid., nos. 59 and 62. 

45. In Esprit de la Revolution et de la Constitution de France, 
1791; see (Euvres completes, ed. Ch. Vellay, Paris, 1908, vol. I, 
p. 262. 

46. During his war commission in Alsace in the fall of 1793, 
he seems to have addressed a single letter to a popular society, 
to that of Strasbourg. It reads : Treres et amis, Nous vous invi- 
tons de nous donner votre opinion sur le patriotisme et les vertus 
republicaines de chacun des membres qui composent l*adminis- 
tration du departement du Bas-Rhin. Salut et FraterniteV See 
(Euvres, vol. II, p. 121. 

47. In Fragments sur les institutions rSpublicaines, (Euvres, 
vol. II, p. 507, 

48. This remark - 'Apres la Bastille vaincue ... on vit que 
le peuple n'agissait pour Televation de personne, mais pour 
l'abaissement de tous' - surprisingly, is Saint-Just's. See his early 
work cited in note 45; vol. I, p. 258. 

49. This was the judgement of Collot d'Herbois, quoted from 
Soboul, op. cit. 

Chapter Six 325 

50. The Jacobins and the societies affiliated with them are 
those which spread terror among tyrants and aristocrats.' ibid. 

51. In the letter to John Cartwright, 5 June 1824. 

52. This quotation is from a slightly earlier period when Jef- 
ferson proposed to divide the counties 'into hundreds'. (See 
letter to John Tyler, 26 May 1810.) Clearly, the wards he had in 
mind were to consist of about a hundred men. 

53. Letter to Cartwright, quoted previously. 

54. ibid. 

55. Letter to Samuel Kercheval, 12 July 1816. 

56. The citations are drawn from the letters just quoted. 

57. Letter to Samuel Kercheval, 5 September 1816. 

58. Letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, 21 February 1825. 

59. Letter to Cartwright, quoted previously. 

60. Letter to John Tyler, quoted previously. 

61. The citations are drawn from the letter to Joseph C. Cabell 
of 2 February 181 6, and from the two letters to Samuel Ker- 
cheval already quoted. 

62. George Soule, The Coming American Revolution, New 
York, 1934, p. 53. 

63. For Tocqueville, see author's Introduction to Democracy 
in America; for Marx, Die K!assen](ampfe in Fran\reich, 1840- 
1850 (1850), Berlin, 1951, p. 124. 

64. In 1871 Marx called the Commune die endlich entdec\te 
politische Form, unter der die b\onomische Befreiung der Arbeit 
sich vollziehen \6nnte, and called this its 'true secret'. (See Der 
Biirger\rieg in Franhreich (1871), Berlin, 1952, pp. 71 and 76.) 
Only two years later, however, he wrote : 'Die Arbeiter miissen 
... auf die entschiedenste Zentralisation der Gewalt in die 
Hande der Staatsmacht hinwirken. Sie diirfen sich durch das 
demokratische Gerede von Freiheit der Gemeinden, von Selbst- 
regierung usw. nicht irre machen lassen' (in Enthullungen 
iiber den Kommunistenprozess zu Koln [Sozialdemokratische 
Bibliothek Bd. IV], Hattingen Zurich, 1885, p. 81). Hence, 
Oskar Anweiler, to whose important study of die council system, 
Die Ratebewegung in Russland 1905-1921, Leiden, 1958, 1 am 
much indebted, is quite right when he maintains : 'Die revolu- 
tionaren Gemeinderate sind fur Marx nichts weiter als zeit- 

326 Notes 

weilige politische Kampforgane, die die Revolution vorwartsrei- 
ben sollen, er sieht in ihnen nicht die Keimzellen fur eine 
grundlegende Umgestaltung der Gesellschaft, die vielmehr von 
oben, durch die proletartische zentralistische Staatsgewalt, erfol- 
gen soil' (p. 19). 

65. I am following Anweiler, op. cit., p, 101. 

66. The enormous popularity of the councils in all twentieth- 
century revolutions is sufficiently well known. During the Ger- 
man revolution of 1918 and 1919, even the Conservative party 
had to come to terms with the Rate in its election campaigns. 

6j. In the words of Levine, a prominent professional revolu- 
tionist, during the revolution in Bavaria: 'Die Kommunisten 
treten nur fur eine Raterepublik ein, in der die Rate eine kom- 
munistische Mehrheit haben.' See Helmut Neubauer, 'Munchen 
und Moskau 1918-1919: Zur Geschichte der Ratebewegung in 
Bayern', fahrbiicher fur Geschichte Osteuropas, Beiheft 4, 1958. 

68. See the excellent study of The Paris Commune of i8yi, 
London, 1937, by Frank Jellinek, p. 27. 

69. See Anweiler, op. cit., p. 45. 

70. Maurice Duverger - whose book on Political Parties. Their 
Organization and Activity in the Modern State (French edition, 
1951), New York, 1961, supersedes and by far excels all former 
studies on the subject 7- mentions an interesting example. At 
the election to the National Assembly in 1871, the suffrage in 
France had become free, but since there existed no parties the 
new voters tended to vote for the only candidates they knew at 
all, with the result that the new republic had become the 
'Republic of Dukes'. 

71. The record of the secret police in fostering rather than 
preventing revolutionary activities is especially striking in France 
during the Second Empire and in Czarist Russia after 1880. It 
seems, for example, that there was not a single anti-government 
action under Louis Napoleon which had not been inspired by 
the police; and the more important terroristic attacks in Russia 
prior to war and revolution seem all to have been police jobs. 

72. Thus, the conspicuous unrest in the Second Empire, for 
instance, was easily contradicted by the overwhelmingly favour- 
able outcome of Napoleon Ill's plebiscites, these predecessors of 

ChapterSix ~ 2 - 

our public-opinion polls. The last of these, in 1869, was again a 
great victory for the Emperor; what nobody noticed at the time 
and what turned out to be decisive a year later was that nearly 
15 per cent of the armed forces had voted against the Emperor. 

73. Quoted from Jellinek, op. cit., p. 194. 

74. One of the official pronouncements of the Parisian Com- 
mune stressed this relation as follows: 'C'est cette idee com- 
munale poursuivie depuis le douzieme siecle, affirmee par la 
morale, le droit et la science qui vient de triompher le 18 mars 
1871.' See Heinrich Koechlin, Die Pariser Commune von 1871 
im Bewusstsein ihrer Anhanger, Basel, 1950, p. 66, 

75. Jellinek, op. cit., p. 71. 

76. Anweiler, op. cit., p. 127, quotes this sentence by Trotsky. 

77. For the latter, see Helmut Neubauer, op. cit. 

78. See Oskar Anweiler, 'Die R&e in der ungarischen Revolu- 
tion*, in OsteuropUy vol. VIII, 1958. 

79. Sigmund Neumann, 'The Structure and Strategy of 
Revolution : 1848 and 1948', in The Journal of Politics, August 

80. Anweiler, op. cit., p. 6, enumerates the following general 
characteristics: '1. Die Gebundenheit an eine bestimmte ab- 
hangige oder unterdruckte soziale Schicht, 2. die radikale Demo- 
kratie als Form, 3. die revolutionise Art der Entstehung', and 
then comes to the conclusion : 'Die diesen Raten zugrundelieg- 
ende Tendenz, die man als "Rategedanken" bezeichnen kann, 
ist das Streben nach einer moglichst unmittelbaren, weitgehen- 
den und unbeschrankten Teilnahme des Einzelnen am offent- 
lichen Leben . . .' 

81. In the words of the Austrian socialist Max Adler, in the 
pamphlet Democratic und Ratesystem, Vienna, 1919. The book- 
let, written in the midst of the revolution, is of some interest 
because Adler, although he saw quite clearly why the councils 
were so immensely popular, nevertheless immediately went on 
to repeat the old Marxist formula according to which the coun- 
cils could not be anything more than merely *eine revolutionare 
Uebergangsform', at best, 'eine neue Kampfform des sozialist- 
xschen Klassenkampfes*. 

82. Rosa Luxemburg's pamphlet on The Russian Revolution, 

328 Notes 

translated by Bertram D. Wolfe, 1940, from which I quote, was 
written more than four decades ago. Its criticism of the 'Lenin- 
Trotsky theory of dictatorship' has lost nothing of its pertinence 
and actuality. To be sure, she could not foresee the horrors of 
Stalin's totalitarian regime, but her prophetic words of warning 
against the suppression of political freedom and with it of pub- 
lic life read today like a realistic description of the Soviet 
Union under Khrushchev : 'Without general elections, without 
unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free 
struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, be- 
comes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy 
remains the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a 
few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless 
experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen 
outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working 
class is invited from time to time to . . . applaud the speeches of 
the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously - 
at bottom, then, a clique affair . . .' 

83. See Jellinek, op. cit., pp. 129 ff. 

84. See Anweiler, op. cit., p. no. 

85. It is quite characteristic that in its justification of the dis- 
solution of the workers' councils in December 1956 the Hun- 
garian government complained : 'The members of the workers' 
council at Budapest wanted to concern themselves exclusively 
with political matters,' See Oskar Anweiler's article quoted pre- 

86. Thus Duverger, op. cit., p. 419. 

87. Quoted from Heinrich Koechlin, op. cit., p. 224. 

88. For details of this process in Russia, see Anweiler's book, 
op. cit., pp. 155-8, and also the same author's article on Hungary. 

89. Duverger, op. cit., p. 393, remarks rightly : 'Great Britain 
and the Dominions, under a two-party system, are profoundly 
dissimilar from Continental countries under a multi-party sys- 
tem, and . . . much closer to the United States in spite of its 
presidential regime. In fact, the distinction between single-party, 
two-party, and multi-party systems tends to become the funda- 
mental mode of classifying contemporary regimes.' Where, how- 
ever, the two-party system is a mere technicality without being 

Chapter Six ~ 2 g 

accompanied by recognition of the opposition as an instrument 
of government, as for instance in present-day Germany, it prob- 
ably will turn out to be of no greater stability than the multi- 
party system. 

90. Duverger, who notices this difference between the Anglo- 
Saxon countries and the continental nation states, is, I think, 
quite wrong in crediting an 'obsolete' liberalism with the advan- 
tages of the two-party system. 

91. I am again using Duverger - op. cit., pp. 423 ff. - who, 
in these paragraphs, however, is not very original but only ex- 
presses a widespread mood in postwar France and Europe. 

92. The greatest and somehow inexplicable shortcoming of 
Duverger's book is his refusal to distinguish between party and 
movement. Surely he must be aware that he would not even be 
able to tell the story of the Communist party without noticing 
the moment when the party of professional revolutionists turned 
into a mass movement. The enormous differences between the 
Fascist and Nazi movements and the parties of the democratic 
regimes were even more obvious. 

93. This was the evaluation of the United Nations' Report on 
the Problem of Hungary, 1956. For other examples, pointing in 
the same direction, see Anweiler's article, cited earlier. 

94. See the interesting study of the party system by C. W. 
Cassinelli, op. cit., p. 21. The book is sound as far as American 
politics are concerned. It is too technical and somewhat super- 
ficial in its discussion of European party systems. 

95. Cassinelli, op. cit., p. 77, illustrates with an amusing ex- 
ample how small the group of voters is who have a genuine and 
disinterested concern for public affairs. Let us assume, he says, 
that there has been a major scandal in government, and that as 
a result of it the opposition party is being voted into power. 'If, 
for example, 70 per cent of the electorate votes both times and 
the party receives 55 per cent of the ballots before the scandal 
and 45 per cent afterward, primary concern for honesty in gov- 
ernment can be attributed to no more than 7 per cent of the elec- 
torate, and this calculation ignores all other possible motives 
for changes of preference.' This, admittedly, is a mere assump- 
tion, but it certainly comes pretty close to reality. The point of 

33° "Notes 

the matter is not that the electorate obviously is not equipped to 
find out corruption in government, but that it cannot be trusted 
to vote corruption out of office. 

96. With these words, it appears, the Hungarian trade unions 
joined the workers' councils in 1956. We know, of course, the 
same phenomenon from the Russian Revolution and also from 
the Spanish Civil War. 

97. These were the reproaches levelled against the Hungarian 
Revolution by the Yugoslav Communist party. See Anweiler's 
article. These objections are not new; they were raised in much 
the same terms over and over again in the Russian Revolution, 

98. Duverger, op. cit., p. 425. 

99. ibid., p. 426. 

100. Rene Char, Feuillets d'Hypnos, Paris, 1946. For the 
English translation, see Hypnos Wa\ing: Poems and Prose, 
New York, 1956. 


Acton, Lord, Lectures on the French Revolution (1910), New York, 

Adams, John, Wor\s (10 vols.), Boston, 1851. 
The Adams-Jefferson Letters, L. J. Cappon, ed., Oxford, 1959. 
Adler, Max, Democratic und Riitesystem, Vienna, 1919. 
Anweiler, Oskar, 'Die Riite in der ungarischen Revolution', in 

Osteuropa, vol. VIII, 1958. 
Die Ratebewegung in Russland 1905-1921, Leiden, 1958. 
Arendt, Hannah, Origins of Totalitarianism (revised ed.), London, 

Aron, Raymond, 'Political Action in the Shadow of Atomic Apoca- 
lypse', in The Ethics of Power, Harold D. Lasswell and Harlan 

Cleveland, eds., New York, 1962. 
Aulard, Alphonse, Etudes et lecons sur la Revolution Francaise, 

Paris, 1921. The French Revolution; A Political History, New 

York, 1910. 

Bagehot, Walter, The English Constitution and Other Political Essays 
(1872), London, 1963. 

Bancroft, George, History of the United States (1834 **•)> New York, 

Beard, Charles A., An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution 
of the United States (1913), New York, 1935. 

Becker, Carl L., The Declaration of Independence (1922), New York, 

Blanc, Louis, Histoire de la Revolution Francaise, Paris, 1847. 

Boorstin, Daniel J., The Americans. The Colonial Experience, Lon- 
don, 1965. 
The Genius of American Politics, Chicago, 1953. 
The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948), Boston, i960. 

Bousset, W., Kyrios Christos, Gottingen, 1913. 

Brown, R. E., Charles Beard and the Constitution, Princeton, 1956. 

332 On Revolution 

Bryce, James, The American Commonwealth (1891), New York, 1950. 
Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), 
London, 1969. 

Carpenter, William S., The Development of American Political 
Thought, Princeton, 1930. 

Cassinelli, C. AV., The Politics of Freedom. An Analysis of the Mod- 
ern Democratic State, Seattle, 1961. 

Chateaubriand, Francois Rene de, Essai sur les Revolutions (1797), 
London, 1820. 

Chinard, Gilbert, The Commonplace Boo\ of Thomas Jefferson, 
Baltimore and Paris, 1926. 
'Polybius and the American Constitution', in Journal of the 
History of Ideas, vol. 1, 1940. 

Cicero, De Natura Deorum, Loeb Classical Library edition, Cam- 
bridge, Mass. Academica, Loeb Classical Library edition, Cam- 
bridge, Mass. De Re Publica, Artemis edition, Zurich, 1952. 

Cohn, Norman, The Pursuit of Millennium, London, 1962. 

Commager, Henry S., Documents of American History, 5th ed., New 
York, 1940. 

Condorcet, Antoine Nicolas de, 'Sur le Sens du Mot Revolutionnaire* 
(1793), in (Euvres, Paris, 1847-9. 
Influence de la Revolution d'Amerique sur VEurope (1786) in 

(Euvres, Paris, 1847-9. 
Esquisse d'un Tableau Historique des Proges de VEsprit Humain 
(1795), ibid. 

Cooper, James Fenimore, The American Democrat (1838), London, 

Cornford, F. M., From Religion to Philosophy (1912), New York, 

Corwin, Edward S., The Constitution and What It Means Today, 
Oxford, 1958. 
The Doctrine of Judicial Review, Princeton, 19 14. 
The "Higher Law" Background of American Constitutional 

Law', in Harvard Law Review, vol. 42, 1928. 
The Progress of Constitutional Theory between the Declaration 
of Indepdence and the Meeting of the Philadelphia Convention*, 
in America Historical Review, vol. 30, 1925. 

Craven, Wesley Frank, The Legend of the Founding Fathers, New 
York, 1956. 

Crevecceur, J. Hector St John de, Letters from an American Farmer 
(1782), New York, 1957. 

Bibliography ™ 

Crosskey, William W-, Politics and the Constitution in the History of 

the United States, Chicago, 1935. 
Curtis, Eugene N., Saint-Just, Colleague of Robespierre, New York, 


Diamond, Martin, 'Democracy and The Federalist: A Reconsideration 

of the Framers' Intent', in American Political Science Review, 

March 1959. 
Dostoyevsky, Feodor, The Grand Inquisitor (1880), Constance Gar- 

nett, trans., New York, 1948. 
Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties. Their Organization and Activity 

in the Modern State (French ed., 1951), London, 1954. 

Echeverria, D., Mirage in the West: A History of the French Image 

of American Society to 181 5, Oxford, 1969. 
Ehrenberg, Victor, 'Isonomia' in Pauly-Wissowa, Realenzy{Iopadie 

des \lassischen Altertums, Supplement, vol. VII. 
Elliot, Jonathan, Debates in the Several State Conventions on the 

Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Philadelphia, 1861. 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Journal (1853), Boston, 1909-14. 

Farrand, Max, The Records of the Federal Convention of ij8j, New 

Haven, 1937. 
Fay, Bernard, The Revolutionary Spirit in France and America, New" 

York, 1927. 
The Federalist (1787), J. E. Cooke, ed., New York, 1961. 
Fink, Zera S., The Classical Republicans, Evanston, 1945. 
Friedrich, Carl Joachim, Constitutional Government and Democracy 

(revised edition), Boston, 1950. 

Gaustad, E. S., The Great Awakening in New England, New York, 

Gentz, Friedrich, The French and American Revolutions Compared, 

translated by John Quincy Adams (1810), Gateway edition, Chi- 
cago, 1959. 

Gierke, Otto, Natural Law and the Theory of Society 1500 to 1800, 
Cambridge, 1950. 

Gohring, Martin, Geschichte der grossen Revolution, Tubingen, 
1950 ff. 

Gottschalk, L. R., The Place of the American Revolution in the 
Causal Pattern of the French Revolution, Easton, 1948. 

Griewank, Karl, Der neuzeitliche Revolutionsbegriff, Jena, 1955. 
'Staatsumwalzung und Revolution in der Aufifassung der 

334 On Revolution 

Renaissance und Barockzeit*, in Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift 
der Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat, Heft *, Jena, 1952-3. 

Haines, C. G., The American Doctrine of Judicial Supremacy >, Berke- 
ley, Calif., 1932. 

Hamilton, Alexander, Wor\s, New York and London, 1885-6. 

Handlin, Oscar, This Was America, London, 1965. 

Haraszti, Zoltan, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress, Cam- 
bridge, 1952. 

Harrington, James, The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656), Liberal 
Arts edition, Indianapolis. Oceana, Liljegren, ed., Heidelberg, 

Hawgood, John A., Modern Constitutions Since, 1787, New York, 

Heinze, Richard, 'Auctoritas', in Hermes, vol. LX. 

Herodotus (The Persian Wars), Historiae, Teubner edition. 

Hofstadter, Richard, The American Political Tradition, London, 

Hume, David, Essays, Moral and Political, 1748. 

Jachmann, Giinther, 'Die Vierte Ekloge Vergils*, in Annali della 
Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, vol. XXI, 1952. 

Jaspers, Karl, The Future of Mankind, Chicago, 1961. 

Jefferson, Thomas, The Complete Jefferson, Saul K. Padover, cd. f 
New York, 1943. 
The Life and Selected Writings, A. Koch and W. Peden, eds., 

Modern Library ed., 1944. 
The Writings, P. L. Ford, ed., 10 vols., New York, 1892-9. 

Jellinek, Frank, The Paris Commune of 1871, London, 1937. 

Jellinek, Georg, The Declaration of tJie Rights of Man and of Citizen, 
New York, 1901. 

Jensen, Merrill, 'Democracy and the American Revolution*, in Hunt- 
ington Library Quarterly, vol. XX, No. 4, 1957. 
New Nation, New York, 1950. 

Jones, Howard Mumford, The Pursuit of Happiness, Cambridge, 

Joughin, Jean T., The Paris Commune in French Politics, 1 871-1880, 
Baltimore, 1955. 

Kantorowicz, Ernst, The King's Two Bodies. A Study in Medieval 
Theology, Princeton, 1957. 
*Mysteries of State. An absolute Concept and Its Late Medieval 
Origin*, in Harvard Theological Review, 1955. 

Bibliography 235 

Kercnyi, Karl, Vergil und Holderlin, Zurich, 1957. 

Knollcnberg, Bernhard, The Origin of the American Revolution, 

1759-1766, London, 1961. 
Kocchlin, Heinrich, Die Pariser Commune von 1871 im Bewusstsein 

ihrer Anhanger, Basle, 1950. 
Kraus, Wolfgang H., 'Democratic Community and Publicity', in 

Nomos (Community), vol. II, 1959. 

La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, Louis Kronenberger, trans., New York, 

Lane, Robert E., 'The Fear of Equality*, in American Polttical 

Science Review, vol. 53, March 1959. 
Lefebvre, Georges, The Coming of the French Revolution, Oxford, 

Lenin, V. I., State and Revolution (1918), in Collected Worlds, 

London, 1969. 
Lerner, Max, America as a Civilization, New York, 1957. 
Levy, Ernst, 'Natural Law in the Roman Period', in Proceedings of 

the Natural Law Institute of Notre Dame, vol. II, 1948. 
Lippmann, Walter, Public Opinion, New York, 1922. 
Locke, John, Two Treatises of Civil Government (1690), Everyman's 

Loewenstein, Karl, Beitrage zur Staatssoziologie, Tubingen, 1961. 

Vol\ und Parlament, Munich 1922. 
Luther, Martin, 'De Servo Arbitrio', in Wer\e, vol. 18, Weimar edi- 
Luxemburg, Rosa, The Russian Revolution, Bertram D. Wolfe, trans., 

Ann Arbor, 1940. 

Machiavelli Niccolo, (Euvres completes, ed. Pleiades, 1952. 
The Letters, A. Gilbert, ed., New York, 1961. 
The Prince and other Worths, London, 1961. 

Maistre, Joseph de, Considerations sur la France, 1796. 

Markov, Walter, 'Ober das Ende der Pariser Sansculottenbewegung*, 
in Beitrage zum neuen Geschichtsbild, Alfred Meusel Festschrift, 
Berlin, 1956. 

Markov, Walter, and Soboul, Albert eds., Die Sansfydotten von Paris. 
Dofyimente zur Geschichte der Vol\sbewegung 1793-% Berlin 
(East), 1957. 

Markov, Walter, ed., Jafybiner und Sans\ulotten. Beitrage zur Ge- 
schichte der franzosischen Revolutionsregierung 1 793-1 794, 
Berlin, 1956. 

33 6 On Revolution 

Marx, Karl, Der BUrgerfyieg in Fran\reich (1871), Berlin, 1952. 

'Enthullungen iibcr den Kommunistenprozess zu Koln', in 
Sozialdemofyatische Bibliothe\, Bd IV, Hattingen, Zurich, 1885. 

Die KIassenJ(ampfe in Franfyeich, 1840-1850 (1850), Berlin, 
1951; translation by H. Kuhn, New York, 1924. 

The Communist Manifesto (1848). 

Das Kapital (1873), London, 1960. 
'Massachusetts* in Encyclopaedia Britannica, nth ed., vol. XVIL 
Mather, Cotton, Magnolia (1694). 
Mathiez, Albert, Girondins et Montagnards, Paris, 1930. 

Autour de Robespierre, Paris 1957. 

The French Revolution, New York, 1928. 
McCloskey, Robert G., ed., Essays in Constitutional Law, New York, 

McDonald, Forrest, We the People: The Economic Origins of the 

Constitution, London, 1958. 
Mcllwain, Charles Howard, Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern, 

Ithaca, 1940. 
Melville, Herman, Billy Budd (1891), London, 1962. 
Mercier de la Riviere, L'Ordre naturel et essentiel des Sociitis poli- 

tiques (1767). 
Michelet, Jules, Histoirc de la Revolution Francaise, Paris (1847-50), 

Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty (1859), Library of Liberal Arts edition, 

Indianapolis, 1956. 
Miller, John G, The Origins of the American Revolution, Oxford, 

. 1966- 
Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: the Seventeenth Century, 

Cambridge, 1954. 
Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat, Esprit des Lois (1748), Thomas 

Nugent, trans., New York, 1949. 
Morey, William C, The First State Constitutions 1 , in Annals of the 

American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. IV, Sep- 
tember 1893. 
'The Genesis of a Written Constitution', in Annals of the 

American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. I, April 

Morgan, Edmund S., The Birth of the Republic, 1763^1789, Chicago, 

Morgenthau, Hans J., The Purpose of American Politics, New York, 

Mumford, Lewis, The City in History, London, 1966. 

Bibliography 337 

Neubauer, Helmut, 'Munchen und Moskau 191&-1919. Zur Ge- 

schichte der Ratebewegung in Bayern\ in fahrbUcher filr Ge* 

schichtc Osteuropas, Beiheft 4, 1958. 
Neuman, Sigmund, 'The Structure and Strategy of Revolution: 

1848 and 1948', in The Journal of Politics, August 1949. 
ed., Modern Political Parties, Chicago, 1956. 
Niles, Hezekiah, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America 

(Baltimore, 1822), New York, 1876. 
Norden, Eduard, Die Geburt des Kin des. Geschichte einer religiosen 

Idee, Leipzig, 1924. 

Ollivier, Albert, Saint-Just et la Force des Choses, Paris, 1954. 

Paine, Thomas, The Age of Reason (1794-1811), Common Sense 
(1776), The Rights of Man (1791), in The Complete Writings, 
New York, 1945. 

Palmer, Robert R-, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, Prince- 
ton, 1959. 
Twelve Who Ruled. The Year of the Terror in the French 
Revolution, Princeton, 1941. 

Parrington, Vernon L., Main Currents in American Thought (1927- 
1930), London, 1963. 

Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, John Dryden 
translation, Modern Library edition, New York. 

Poeschl, Viktor, Romischer Staat und griechisches Staatsden\en bet 
Cicero, Berlin, 1936. 

Polybius, The Histories, Loeb Classical Library edition, Cambridge, 

Raynal, Abb6, Tableau et Revolutions des colonies anglaises dans 

VAmSrique du Nord (1781). 
Redslob, Robert, Die Staatstheorien der Franzosischen Nationalver- 

sammlung von j 789, Leipzig, 1912. 
'Revolution* in Oxford Dictionary, 

Robespierre, Maximilien, CEuvres, 3 vols., Laponneraye, ed., 1846, 
(Euvres Completes, G. Laurent, ed., 1939, 
CEuvres, Lefebvre, Soboul, eds., Paris, 1950 ££. 
Rosenstock, Eugen, Die ettropiiischen Revolutionen, Jena, 1931. 
Rossiter, Clinton, The First American Revolution, New York, 1956. 

The Legacy of John Adams', in Yale Review, 1957. 
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality 
(1755), G. D. H. Cole, trans., New York, 1950. 
Social Contract (1762), London, 1968. 

338 On Revolution 

Rowland, Kate Mason, The Life of George Mason, 1125-1792, New 

York, 1892. 
Rush, Benjamin, Selected Writings, ed. D. D. Runes, New York, 

Ryffel, Heinrich, Metabole Politeion, Berne, 1949. 

Saint-Just, Louis de, CEuvres Completes, Ch. Vellay, ed., Paris, 1908. 

Saint-Simon, Memoires (1788), Pleiades ed., 1953. 

Schieder, Theodor, 'Das Problem der Revolution im 19. Jahrhundert*, 

in Hisiorische Zeitschrift, vol. 170, 1950. 
Schultz, Fritz, Prinzipien des rdmischen Rectus, Berlin, 1954. 
Shattuck, Charles E., The True Meaning of the Term "Liberty" ... in 

the Federal and State Constitutions', in Harvard Law Review, 

Sieves, Abbe, Ou'est-cc que le Tiers Etat?, 1789, 4th edition. 
Soboul, Albert, 'An den Urspriingen der Volksdemokratie. Politische 

Aspekte der Sansculottendemokratie im Jahre IV, in Bcitrage 

zttm neuen Geschichtsbild. Alfred Meusel Festschrift, Berlin, 

'Robespierre und die Volksgesellschaften*, in Maximilicn Robes- 
pierre, Beitrdge zu seinem 200. Geburtstag, Walter Markov, 

ed., Berlin, 1958. 
Les Sans-Culottes Parisiens, Paris, 1957. 
Solberg, Winton U., The Federal Convention and the Formation of 

the Union of the American States, New York, 1958. 
Sorel, Albert, L Europe et la Revolution Franqaise, Paris, 1903. 
Soule, George, The Coming American Revolution, New York, 1934. 
Spurlin, Paul Merrill, Montesquieu in America, 1760-1801, Baton 

Rouge, Louisiana, 1940. 

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Taurini, 1922-4. 

Thompson, J. M., Robespierre, Oxford, 1939. 

Tocqueville, Alexis de, L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution (1856), in 

CEuvres Completes, Paris, 1953. 
Democracy in America (1838), London, 1968. 
Trent, W. P., The Period of Constitution-making in the American 

Churches', in Essay in the Constitutional History of the United 

States, ed. J. F. James, Boston, 1889. 
Tyne, C. H. van, The Founding of the American Republic, Boston, 

1922 and 1929. 

United Nations, Report on the Problem of Hungary, New York, 

Bibliography 339 

Virgil, The Acncid, Eclogues, Georgics, J. W. Mackail, trans., in 

Wor\s, Modern Library edition, New York. 
Voegelin, Eric, A New Science of Politics, Chicago, 1952. 

Weinstock, S., 'Penates*, in Pauly-Wissowa, Realenzy{lopadie des 

Itfassischen Altertums. 
Weiss, E., 'Lex', in Pauly-Wissowa, op. cit., vol. XII. 
Whitfield, J. K, Machiavclli, Oxford, 1947. 
Wilson, Woodrow, An Old Master and Other Political Essays (1893). 

Congressional Government (2885), New York, 1956. 
Wright, Benjamin F., The Origins of the Separation of Powers in 
America', in Economica, May "1933. 



Absolutism, 24, 26, 39, 91, 122, 124, 
146, 148, 155-60, 171, 179, 18&-9, 
190, 194-7, 218, 311 

Absolute monarchy, see Absolutism 

Abundance, 22, 64, 70, 139, 166 

Achilles, 209 

Action, 173, 212-13, 234, 273, 281; 
and power, 175 

Acton, Lord, 104, 109, 112, 244, 
289, 292-4 

Adams, John, 23, 34, 39, 46, 67, 69- 
7°» 77» 84, 118-21, 129, 136, 140, 
141-2, 146, 152, 175, 181, 185-6, 
190-91, 195-6, 203, 207, 230-31, 

2 37. 2 75. 296* 3?3-4» 3™» 3*4J ° n 
power, 152; on happiness, 296-7; 
on lawlessness, 298; on philoso- 
phy, 315 

Adams, John Quincy, 198 

Adams, Samuel, 178, 297, 311 

Adler, Max, 263, 327 

Administration, 91, 273-4; rod 
parties, 272 

Aeneas, 187, 205, 209, 317 

Africa, 73 

Afterlife, 131-2, 230 

Alcibiades, 35 

Alexandria, 69 

America, 121, 132; and Europe, 24- 
5, 68, 71-2, 92, 138, 195, 215, 220, 
222, 235; and social contract, 171; 
and Russia, 217-18; see also North 
America, United States of 
America, Colonial America 

American colonists, 173, 177^8 

American Dream, 139 
American foreign policy, 217 
American frontier, 93 
American primaries, 276 
Ancien rigime, 50, 109, 117, 259 
Antiquity, 21-2, 27, 34, 123, 186, 
197, 223, 230; Greek, 12, 19, 30- 
31, 101-2, 129, 186-7, 1961 3 J 3; 
Roman, 12-13, 37» 39. 45"6» 74» 
107, 117-18, 187-8, 196, 202, 206-7 
Aquinas, Thomas, 131 
Arbeiter- und Soldatenrate, 262 
Argenson, Marquis de, 78 
Aristocracy, 223, 226, 279 
Aristocrats, 122 

Aristotle, 16, 19, 22* 34, 36, 150 
Aron, Raymond, 16, 283 
Articles of Confederacy, 145 
Asia, 73 
Atheism, 191 
Athens, 196-7, 281, 285 
Atlantic Civilization, 121-2, 195, 3x1 
Augustine, 27, 124, 211, 213 
Augustus, 210 
Aulard, Alphonse, 98, 284 
Authoritarian government, 278 
Authority, 37, " Z17-18, . 195, 199; 
American concept of, 200; Roman 
concept of, 179-202; loss of, 260, 
265; and religion, 159-60; and 
revolution, 116; and power, 155-6, 
178-9, 200 

Bacon, Francis, 112 
Bagehot, Walter, 162, 198 



Bakunin, 261 

Balance of power, 303-4 

Barker, Ernest, 107, 293 

Barrot, Odysse, 266 

Bastille, 47-50, 99, 215 

Bavarian Rdterepttbli\ t 262 

Beard, Charles, ^ 

Becker, Carl L., 129 

Beginning, 20, 21, 198, 204-6; and 
birth, 211-12; Latin word for, 
201; Greek word for, 213; Roman 
concept of, 213; Hebrew concept 
of, 206 

Being and appearance, 101-2 

Berlin, 262 

Bible, 190, 205, 315 

Bill of Rights, 32, 108, 143, 147, 
152, 194, 250, 252 

Blackstone, William, 32, 162, 185, 

2 95 
Blanc, Louis, 98 
Bodin, Jean, 24, 36, 156, 287 
Bolshevik party, 66, 99-100, 247, 

258, 265, 305 
Bolshevik purges, 100 
Boorstin, Daniel, 219, 319 
Bourbons, 51 
Bousset, W.,317 
Bracton, 154, 190-91 
Brain trust, 321 
British Commonwealth, 268 
British constitution, 145, 156, 177-8, 

301, 3" 
British government, 226, 277 
British history, 147 
British monarchy, 162 
Brown, R. E., 292 
Bryce, James, 307, 309 
Budapest, 262, 267, 328 
Bureaucracy, 91 
Burke, Edmund, 45, 108, no, 117- 

18, 148, 322 
Burnaby, Andrew, 68 

Cain and Abel, 20, 38, 87-8 
Cambridge Agreement, 107, 309 

Capitalism, 217 

Capponi, Gino, 285-6 

Carpenter, William S., 301, 319, 

Cassinclli, C. W., 323, 332 

Catiline, 35 

Cato, 201, 248-9 

Char, Rcne\ 215, 280 

Checks and balances, 151, 152, 238, 

251, 302 
China, 216, 287 
Chinard, Gilbert, 301, 316 
Chinese Revolution, 144 
Christ, 190, 194 
Christianity, 25-7, 33, 36, 45, 70, 

83, 95, xox, 104, 161, 194, an, 

230, 280 
Cicero, 36, 202, 207, 230, 314 
Civil rights and liberties, 32, 34, 

115, 126-7, 133-5* M3» 221 
Civil war, 17, 34 
Class consciousness, 63 
Classless society, 272 
Class society, 163 
Cohn, Norman, 284 
Coke, Sir Edward, 285 
Collot d'Hcrbois, 324 
Colonial America, 174, 180, 268, 

Colonization, 92-3 
Commager, Henry S. , 306, 310 > 
Commandments, the Ten, 189 
Commune, see Parisian Commune 
Communism, 218, 258, 329-30 
Compact, 181, 307; see also Cov- 
Compassion, 71, 72, 75, 79-90, 

94-5, 222, 246; and violence, 

Condorcct, 18, 29, 31, 183, 215, 

Confederacy, 153 
Congress, 131, 276 
Connecticut, 167-8 
Conscience, 102-3 
Consent, 76, 171-2, 177, 181 



Conservatism, 41, 44, 162, 197, 
223, 283, 326 

Conspiracy, 182 

Constituent Assembly, see National 

Constitutional government, 132-3, 
137, 143, 145-6, 151, 158-9 

Constitutional monarchy, 134 

Constitution, American, 68, 95, 115, 
136, 142, 145-6, 150, 153-8, 165, 
183-4, 191, 193, 197-8, 200, 203- 
4. 234-5, 239, 250-51, 252-3, 
298, 301, 304-5, 313; and its 
amendments, 202; and religion, 

Constitution-making, 126, 141-4, 
166 , 235, 307 

Constitutions, 121, 125-6, 132, 158, 
164, 166; European, 144-6, 164; 
French, 75; written, 157, 164, 

Constitution-worship, 198, 203-4 

Constitution, word for, 145, 203 

Cooper, James Fcnimore, 136, 143, 
298, 299 

Copernicus, 42 

Cornford, F. M., 186-7, 3*3 

Corruption, 67, 80, 98, 104-7, 251- 
2, 273; and poverty, 67 

Cor win, Edward S., 136, 162, 285, 
289, 298, 305 

Cotton, John, 171, 309 

Council system, 247-55, 256, 261-3, 
325; and party system, 258, 265-6, 
273; and workers' councils, 274- 
5; in Hungary, 266; see also 

Counter-revolution, 18, 45, 49, 54, 
100, 183, 265, 283 

Coup d'etat, 34 

Court society, 104-5, 122 

Couthon, 241 

Covenant, 167-71, 175, 309; colon- 
ial, 168; of Israel, 172; see also 

Craven, W. F., 213, 308, 318, 319 

Crevccoeur, Hector St John de, 24, 

46, 92, 135, 140, 284, 292 
Cromwell, Oliver, 43, 196, 208, 


Danton, 58. 

Declaration of Independence, 24, 
95, 126-32, 141, 148, 149, 157, 
166, 177, 183, 185, 191-3, 199, 

234-5. 3o8 

Declaration of the Rights of Man, 
45, 148, 183 

Democracy, 22, 30, 36, 140, 15*, 
223, 269, 306, 308; word, 120; 
and public opinion, 225; and 
party system, 277; and republic, 
164, 224, 226, 236 

Descartes, 46, 97 

Dcsmoulins, 48, 292 

Deterrent, 15-16 

Dickinson, John, 128, 142, 169, 176, 
296, 299 

Dictatorship, 158-9, 163; Roman 
concept of, 207, 208; revolution- 
ary, 121, 158; see also One-party 

Dictatorship of the proletariat, 257 

Division of power, see Separation 
of powers 

Dostoevski, Fcodor, 82-8, 96 

Duvcrgcr, Maurice, 266, 268, 270, 
277» 328-30 

Economics, 62-3 

Education, 72-3 

Egalitarian society, 113, 277, 279 

Elite, 275-80 

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 235 

Engels, Friedrich, y^ 7 272 

England, 43, 127, 134, 148, 168, 
180, 268, 301, 310, 315, 322, 328 

English civil wars, 43, 158 

Enlightened absolutism, see Abso- 

Enlightenment, 51, 80, 95, 124, 174, 
185, 191-2, 197, 219, 227 



Equality, 25, 30-31, 40, 45, 72, 108, 
1 35 r 164, 166, 170, 172-3, 193, 
248, 278; and authority, 279 

Euclid, 192 

Europe, 23-4, 53, 55, 66, 71, 94, 
116-17, 138-9, 145-6, 266, 277; 
and America, 138, 216, 311 

European governments, 265 

Evil, 81-2, 174 

Executive branch of government, 

Exploitation, 62 

Faction, 93 

Fascism, 329 

Faulkner, William, 320 

Federal Convention, 165 

Federal government, 251 

Federalism, 150, 166, 169, 171, 245, 
267, 278-9, 303; in Europe, 246; 
and republics, 168 

Feudalism, 312 

Fink, Zera S., 316, 318, 321 

First World War, 13, 14-15, 18, 
144, 146, 271 

Florence, 286 

Forms of government, 56, 91, 316 

Forster, Georg, 49 

Foundation, 38, 41, 92, 160-61; see 
also Constitution; act of, 175, 
195-6, 199, 202-5, 222-3; process 
of, 175; legends of, 204-7; Roman 
concept of, 198, 203, 207-8; and 
fabrication, 208 

Founding Fathers, 24, 55, 68, 70, 
73» 93. "I, 129, 137, 139, 147, 
199, 203, 225, 228-31, 316; and 
democracy, 226; and philosophy, 
219; realism of, 73, 174; agree- 
ment between, 297 

France, 48, 52, 67, 74, 104, no, 
117, 1 18-19, I2 5> 132-3, 146, 216, 
266, 270-71,, 287; Constitutional 
history of, 163 

Franco-Prussian War, 15 

Franklin, Benjamin, 44, 6y t 310 

Freedom, and abundance, 137, 138- 
9; and equality, 31, 275; and 
foundation, 232-4; and happiness, 
113; and liberation, 29-33, 234; 
and necessity, 54, 59-60 63-4; 
and power, 137, 150-51, 301-2; 
foundation of, in, 125, 142; 
from politics, 280; passion for, 
125; public, 118, 123-5; and vio- 
lence, 114, 116-17 

Free enterprise, 217 

Friedrich, Carl J., 143, 299 

Fundamental Orders of Connecti- 
cut, 167-8, 266, 309 

Galileo, 46 

General will, 60, 76-9, 97, 156, 183, 

German Idealism, 52 
German Revolution of 1918, 326 
Germany, 52, 262, 271, 329; and 

France, 146 
Gironde, 49, 75 
Gladstone, William E., 144 
Goodness, 81-2, 98, in 
Glorious Revolution, 43, 136 
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 54 
Great Awakening, 309 
Grene, David, 285 
Griewank, Karl, 287, 288 
Grotius, Hugo, 192 
Guicciardini, Francesco, 288 

Hamilton, Alexander, 49, 153, 200, 
214, 225, 231, 304; on democracy, 

Happiness, 61, 75, 115-40, 246; pub- 
lic and private, 128; new word in 
Europe, 75, 245; see also Public 

Haraszti, Zoltan, 291, 318 

Harrington, James, 22, 119, 164, 
171, 196, 202, 207-8, 213, 224, 

Hebert, 58, no 

Hector, 209 



Hegel, Georg Friedrich Wilhelm, 

51-2, 54, 64, 113, 228 
Henry IV of France, 287-8 
Herodotus, 30, 31, 285 
Higher Law, 161-3, 182-4, 188-90, 

Hiroshima, 17 
Historiography, American, 99, 219- 

20, 316, 319; Florentine, 288; 

French, 98 
History, concept of, 27, 51, 55; 

philosophy of, 52, 113 
Hitchborn, Benjamin, 157, 305 
Hitler, Adolf, 65, 265 
Hobbes, Thomas, 46, 171, 302 
Holy Roman Empire, 117 
Homer, 209, 317 
House of Commons, 322 
House of Lords, 226 
Hume, David, 202 
Hungarian Revolution, 112, 271, 
Hungarian Revolution, 112, 271, 

Hungary, 267 
Hypocrisy, 81 , 96-106 

Ideologies, 11,57,223 
Immigrants, 136, 138-9, 148, 168 
Immortality, 286 
Industrial Revolution, 63, 259 
Interest, 22, 135-6; and opinion, 

226-7; an( * representation, 269 
Intimacy, 88 
Isis cult, 211 
Isonomy, 30, 285 
Italy, 36, 266, 271, 286 
Italian city-states, 40, 159 

Jacobin club, 245, 247 
Jacobin government, 243, 245 
Jacobins, 75, 241, 325 
James, Henry, 124 
Jaspers, Karl, 283 
Jay, John, 33 

Jefferson, Thomas, 25, 33, 67-8, 71, 
72, 93> "6-31, 136, *39» 176. 

191-4, 231-9, 244, 249-55, 279. 
303» 3™> 3 2 3> 3 2 5'» °a Constitu- 
tion, 233, 235; on democracy, 306; 
on philosophy, 318; on republics, 

Jellinek, Frank, 259 

Jensen, Merrill, 157-8, 177, 305, 311 

Jesus of Nazareth, 82, 85 

Joachim di Fiore, 26 

Jones, Howard Mumford, 128, 295- 

Judgement, 229 

Judicial control, 200, 226 

Judiciary, 199-200 

Kant, Im.nanuel, 54, 229 
Kantorowicz, Ernst, 155-6 
Khrushchev, Nikita, 218, 328 
Kingship, see Monarchy 
Kierkegaard, Soeren, 96 

Lamartine, Alphonsc, 260 

La Rochefoucauld, 104-5 

Latin America, 73 

Law, 84, 90; American concept of, 

314-15; Greek concept of, 186; 

Hebrew concept of, 189-90; 

Roman concept of, 186-8, 210; 

traditional concept of, 195; source 

of 157, 161; mathematical, 193; 

and power, 151, 156, 159, 163, 

166, 183, 305 
Lawmaking, 161, 183-4; sec a ^ SQ 

Law of Suspects, 96 
Leclerc, 241, 324 
Legislation, in antiquity, 187, 313 
Legislators, 39, 207; ancient concept 

of, 186-7 
Legislative branch of government, 

Leisure, 123 

Le Mercier de la Riviere, 192 
Lenin, 11, 65, 79, 100, 218, 250, 

256, 259, 328; and the soviets % 

257. 265 



Levellers, 43 

Levine, Eugcn, 258, 326 

Liancourt, Due de La Rochefou- 
cauld, 47-8, 104, 288 

Liberalism, 72, 140, 221 

Liberation and freedom, 40-41, 
74-5, 142, 299 

Livingstone, William, 161 

Livy, 13, 313 

Locke, John, 23, ^, 169, 171, 185, 
224, 300 

Louis XIV, 105 

Louis XVI, 47-8, 91, 105, no 

Luther, Martin, 26, 184 

Luxemburg, Rosa, 264, 327-8 

Lycurgus, 312 

Lyons, 292 

McDonald, Forrest, 292, 300 

Machiavelli, Niccolo, 36-9, 101-4, 
197, 202, 207-8, 286-7, 288 

Madison, James, 93, 127-8, 136-8, 
152-3, 165, 168-9, 199-200, 203, 
222, 226, 236, 304, 306, 312; on 
government, 296; on state govern- 
ment, 152-3 

Magna Charta, 143, 299 

Maistrc, Joseph de, 18, 283 

Maitland,F. W., 155 

Majority rule, 164-5 

Markov, Walter, 289, 290 

Marx, Karl, 22, 25, 50, 54, 61-6, 
69, 73, 106, 113, 250, 255-7, 2 58, 
288, 327 

Marxism, 61, 65, 261 

Mason, George, 296 

Massachusetts, 149, 167, 306, 311, 

Massachusetts Bay Company, 309 
Mass movement, 270, 279, 329 
Mass society, 139, 270, 279 
Mather, Cotton, 320 
Mathiez, Albert, 98 
Mayflower Compact, 167, 173, 308 
Melville, Herman, 80-88, 101 
Men of letters, 120-32, 219, 259, 

Michelet, Jules, 98 

Middle Ages, 26, 40, 197, 255 

Mill, John Stuart, 140 

Milton, John, 196, 208, 315 

Mirabcau, Comte de, 116, 246 

Misfortune, 94-5, 109-14 

Mixed form of government, 150-1, 
231, 320 

Monarchy, 30, 33, 36, 49-50, 136, 
178; and happiness, 295; versus 
republic, 91, 129-30, 134, 219, 
238, 297, 310 

Monroe, James, 66-^ t 289 

Montaigne, Michel de, 96, 122 

Montesquieu, 24, 90, 116-18, 122, 
150-52, 156, 169, 185, 196, 224, 
301-4; on Law, 188-9, 3 02 ; oa 
republics, 153; on power, 301-3 

Morgan, Edmund S., 145, 300-301 

Multi-party system, 266, 328-9 

Mumford, Lewis, 235, 286 

Munich, 262 

Mutatio rerunty 21, 36 

Napoleon Bonaparte, 50, 52, 73, 

163, 254 
Napoleon III, 326-7 
National Assembly (French), 109- 

10, 163, 187, 222-3, 241-2, 246-7, 

Nationalism, 77, 158 
Nation-state, 24, 53, 77, 156, 158-9, 

160, 166, 171, 174, 195, 197, 245, 

247, 257, 287; and party system, 

Natural Law, 129, 185-6, 189-90 
Necessity, 13, 132; biological, 59, 

64-5, no, 114; and freedom, 112; 

doctrine of, 113; historical, 48, 

5 J -3» 5 6 » 59» I0 °; and liberation, 

39-4°» 74» 14273. 299; and 

violence, 63-4, 115 
Negro slavery, 71-2 
Neumann, Sigmund, 262, 327 
New England, 67, 168, 306-7; 

townships, 251 



New Hampshire, 306 

Newton, Isaac, 150, 302 

Nietzsche, Friedrich, $6 

Norden, Eduard, 317 

North America, 23, 55, 118, 127, 

135-6, 168, 177-8, 268; colonial 

history of, 267 
Novelty, 34, 41, 46-8, 212 
Novas or do saeclorum, 26, 46, 68, 

172, 210-12 
Nuclear warfare, 13, 15-16 

Oath of the Tennis Court, 120, 125 

Obedience, 228 

October Revolution, see Russian 

Old Testament, 172, 190, 205, 315 

Oligarchy, 21,30, 36 

Ollivier, Albert, 289, 291 

One-party dictatorship, 247-8, 258, 
263, 266, 268, 273, 305 

Opinion, 268-9; and authority, 
227-8; in government, 226; and 
truth, 229; see also Public opin- 

Original sin, 87 

Otis, James, 301 

Ovid, 317 

Oxford, 107 

Paine, Thomas, 45, 68, 145, 196, 
203, 233, 289 

Palmer, Robert R., 97, 138, 181, 
292, 298, 312 

Paris, 48, 6y, y$, 113,259 

Parisian Commune, 89, 239, 242, 
246; sections of, in, 292; of 1871, 
64,250, 256-7, 261,266, 327 

Parliament, 148, 236, 247-8, 271, 
276; in Europe, 186; in England, 

Parmenides, 229 

Parrington, Vernon L., 140, 298 

Party, 94, 270-71; and Councils, 
257-8, 265-6, 271, 273; and demo- 
cracy, 277; and movement, 329; 

and parliament, 247-8; see also 
Multi-party system, One-party 
dictatorship, Two-party system 

Pascal, Blaise, 96, 122 

Pasternak, Boris, 17 

Paul, Saint, 230 

Pendleton, Edmund, 138 

Pcnn, William, 71 

Pennsylvania, 200, 301, 322-3 

People, deification of, 182; Amer- 
ican concept of, 93-4; French con- 
cept of, 74-8, 93-4, 106-7, *57> 
179, 290; and masses, 270; Roman 
concept of, 166, 178, 188 

Peoples' democracies, 305 

Pericles, 177 

Permanent revolution, 51, 133-4* 

Persona, 106-8, 293 

Philosophes, 124, 216; see also Men 
of letters 

Philosophy, and French Revolu- 
tion, 53; and American Revolu- 
tion, 219, 229 

Pilgrim Fathers, 167, 230, 319 

Pity, 85, 94; and compassion, 89 

Plato, 21-2, 102, 129, 131, 187, 192, 

Plebiscite, 228, 326-7 

Plutarch, 312 

Political science, 52, 121, 149, 177, 

Polybius, 21, 42, 150-51, 284, 312 

Popular societies, 239-44, 254, 324 

Poverty, 23, 60, 66, 74, 91, 94, 108, 
112, 114, 123, 137, 221; in Amer- 
ica, 67-70 

Power, 91, 150, 170-71; American 
concept of, 166-7; and authority, 
155-7, W* 20 °; anc * freedom, 
150; French concept of, 181-2; 
constitution of, 150; and law, 159, 
163; mistrust in, 146-7; and 
strength, 166, 175; see also 
Balance of power, Separation of 

34 8 


Professional revolutionists, see Revo- 

Promise, 170-71, 175-7, 214 

Property, 60, 180, 252 

Protestantism, 190 

Proudhon, Pierre- Joseph, 51, 261 

Prudence, 219, 315 

Public happiness, 72, 119, 126-35, 
141, 234, 235, 255, 269, 279 

Public opinion, 76, 93, 221-8, 245 

Purges, 99-100 

Puritanism, 308-9 

Puritans, 139, 172, 230, 308, 319 

Radicals, 162 

Raison d'&at, 77 

Raynal, Abb6, 23, 284 

Realpoliti\, 105 

Reason and passion, 95, 225, 229 

Rebellion, 39-40, 47-8; and revolu- 
tion, 142 

Reformation, 26 

Reign of Terror, 99, 105, 108 

Religion, 161, 286; Roman con- 
cept of, 198, 201; and govern- 
ment, 162 

Religious sanction, 171, 185-6, 189- 

Renaissance, 36-8, 43, 196, 286, 

Representation, 69, 143, 226, 236, 
237, 240, 268, 272-3, 291, 309; 
versus action, 273; in the colonies, 
236, 322; and democracy, 166; 
and party system, 270 

Representative government, 226, 
251-2, 263, 269; and ward system, 

Republic, 33, 91, 121, 129, 134, 
169, 171, 182-4, 219; versus 
aristocracy, 226; and corruption, 
251; and democracy, 164, 166, 
223, 236; versus monarchy, 297, 
Resistance movement, French, 280 
Restoration, 37, 43-5, 154-5 

Revolution, history of, 50-51, 61, 
70, 255-6; spectacle of, 51, 288; 
word, 35, 41-3, 47, 48-9, 55; 
revolutions, European, 222; twen- 
tieth-century, 115 
Revolution of 1848, 260-62 
Revolutionary calendar, 29, 36 
Revolutionary government, 60, 

i33-4> *37i M 1 * x 44> 233, 242, 

292; and communal movement, 

Revolutionary law, 183 
Revolutionary parties, 248-9, 257, 

259, 264-5, 274; and councils, 

Revolutionary spirit, 46, 126, 132-3, 

142, 174, 221-2, 231, 239; and 

federalism, 266; and foundation, 

222-3, 231-2; and ward system, 

Revolutionary tradition, 79, 90, 95, 

105, 216, 221, 249, 258 
Revolutionary wars, 258 
Revolutionists, 24, 54, 57, 59, 79, 

90, in, 115, 134, 221, 257-60, 

262, 265, 273, 329 
Rights of Man, 32, 53, 61, 84, 108- 

9, 148-9, 233; see also Declaration 

of the Rights of Man 
Robertson, William, 308 
Robespierre, Maximilien, 29, 37, 

39. 4 6 > 49~5°» 57-9» 65, 74~5. 82, 
85, 89-90, 93-6, no, 120-21, 
132-4, 137, 141, 158, 182-7, 
190-1, 207, 208, 231-3, 241-7, 
288, 291-2, 314; and popular 
societies, 240-41; and Rousseau, 
97; and virtue, 97 

Roman Empire, 117, 155, 161, 194, 

Roman Republic, 117, 188, 197 

Romans, origin of, 317 

Romanticism, 80, 197 

Rome, 38, 201, 208, 315; founda- 
tion of, 210 

Romulus and Remus, 20, 38, 209 



Rossiter, Clinton, 128, 169, 172, 

287, 302, 308-9; on John Adams, 

Rotation in office, 238 
Rousseau, Jean Jacques, 71, 76-81, 

94, 97, 106, 109, 150, 156, 183-4, 

224, 241, 291-2 
Rousscauism, 120 
Rousselin, Alexandre, no 
Royal Charters, 167-8, 177, 307, 

Royalists, 49 

Rush, Benjamin, 141, 149, 236, 301 
Russia, 52, 216, 266, 287, 328 
Russian Revolution, 52, 58, 65, 99, 

144, 155, 158, 247, 257, 262, 

265-6, 330 
Russian Revolution of 1905, 15, 250, 

256, 257, 259, 262, 264 
Russo-Japanese War, 15 

Saint-Just, Louis de, 49-50, 56, 58, 

75» 77* 8 o» 9 1 * " 2 » l 9 6 > 2 43~4» 

269-70, 324 
Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy, due 

de, 104 
Sans-culottes, 61, 243, 245, 289 
Scandinavia, 146 
Schieder, Theodor, 51 
Scipio, 207 

Second Empire (French), 15, 326 
Second World War, 17, 144, 146, 

215,271, 280 
Secret police, 260, 326 
Secularization, 26, 36, 159-61, 230 
Selden, John, 236 
Self-government, 41 
Senate, 224; American, 200, 226-8, 

231, 321; Roman, 178, 199-200 
Separation of powers, 150-52, 156, 

September Massacres, 99 
Shakespeare, William, 323 
Shay's Rebellion, 233 
Sieyes, Abbd, 75, 156, 158, 161-4, 


Slavery, 63, 71, 114 

Smith, Adam, 23 

Social contract, 169-73, 308 

Social question, 22-4, 56, 59-114, 

221 ; see also Poverty 
Socialism, 65 
Socrates, 101-3, 132, 319 
Sol berg, Winton U., 306 , 1 1 ,j 

Solon, 312 — > Sal ti* r . ^ ^ 

Sophocles, 281 

Soule, George, 325 

Sovereignty, 24, 153, 156, 160, 168, 

Soviet Parliament, 265 
Soviet Republic, 265, 273 
Soviet Russia, 217, 258, 328 
Soviets, 65-6, 247, 249, 257-8, 

Spanish Civil War, 330 
Sparta, 224, 315 
Spurlin, P. M.,301 
Stalin, Joseph, 65, 79, 218 
State, 39 
State constitutions, 149, 165, 19I1 

295, 300 
State governments, 153, 165-6, 251, 

300, 306 
State of nature, 19, 21, 45, 165-6, 

180-81, 185, 188 
Strasbourg, 243, 324 
Stuarts, 43 

Supreme Being, cult of, 184, 190 
Supreme Court, 200, 228, 231 
Suspicion, 96-7 
Switzerland, 146 

Taylor, John, 303-4 ' 

Technology, 65, 114 

Terror, 57, 60, 99-100, no, 112, 
221, 243, 247, 291; and corrup- 
tion, 106; of virtue, 100; see also 
Reign of Terror 

Theocracy, 308 

Theseus, 281 

Third Estate, 108, 125 

Third Republic (French) 15, 146 



Thompson, J. M., 120, 190, 289-50, 

2 93-4» 312 
Thucydidcs, 12, 285 
Tocqucville, Alexis de, 30, 45, 52, 

57, 61, 113, 118, 125, 132, 137, 

166, 177, 220, 222, 245, 255, 260, 

294, 310 
Totalitarianism, 18, 283 
Townships, 38, 166, 236, 239, 250- 

51, 261, 286, 306, 310-11 
Tradition, Hebrew-Christian, 206; 

Roman concept of, 201; Western, 

162, 195, 197 
Trojan war, 209 
Trotsky, Leon, 262, 327 
Troy, 187, 205, 208-9, 2I2 
Turgot, Robert Jacques, 24, 284 
Twelve Table Law, 188 
Two-party system, 267-8, 328 
Tyranny, 33, 45, 73-4, 91-2, 119- 

20, 130, 133, 143, 151, 225-6; 

ancient concept of, 186 

United States of America, 55, 6y, 
125, 134, 168, 181, 216, 235, 238, 
267-8, 270, 328; and revolution, 

Utopian Socialists, 261 

Venice, 199, 224, 320 
Vergniaud, 49, 58 
Vcrri, Pietro, 179, 311 
Versailles, 68, 99 
Vice, 81-2 
Vico, Giovanni, 55 
Violence, 18-20, 35, 37-9, 64-5, 
83-4, 87-8, 91, 115, 151, 208-9, 

221-2; and American Revolution, 
213; and freedom, 114; and neces- 
sity, 1 13-15; and power, 91 

Virgil, 187, 205-12, 317 

Virginia, 250, 303, 310 

Virginia Company, 167 

Virginian Declaration of Rights, 

Virtue, 81, 290; and Robespierre, 
90; and compassion, 85-6 

Vocgclin, Eric, 284 

War, 11-20, 283; Roman concept of, 

War of Independence, 67, 141, 176 
Ward system, 248-55, 322 
Warden, Joseph, 123 
Washington, George, 56, 67 
Webster, Daniel, 73 
Whitfield, J. H„ 286 
Will, y6, 225, 321; and interest, 78, 

William and Mary, King and Queen 

of England, 43 
Williams, Roger, 308 
Wilson, James, 154, 196, 236, 304, 

Wilson, Woodrow, 198, 200; on 

power, 299 
Winthrop, John, 309 
Women's march to Versailles, 112 
Working class, 274 
Workers' Councils, 274-5 
World history, 53 
Wright, Benjamin F., 306 

Young, Arthur, 144